Thousands of Exiles to Help Artist Dismantle Tibet Soil Exhibit

Press Advisory
October 27, 2011

*Photo opportunity / Photos available upon request

Contact: Tenzing Rigdol +91.9958259723 / Tenzin Dorjee +91.9736514721

20 tonnes of soil from Tibet to be distributed to refugees, ending 3-day installation

Dharamsala – On Friday 28 October, starting at 10am, thousands of Tibetan exiles will be invited to help leading Tibetan artist, Tenzing Rigdol, dismantle his installation “Our Land, Our People”, by taking the soil away with them. The 20,000 kilograms of soil, transported from Tibet to Dharamsala, home of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan government in exile and more than 10,000 Tibetan refugees, is currently displayed on a massive stage. Over the course of two days, around 6,000 Tibetan and local residents of Dharamsala have visited the installation.

The Dalai Lama blessed some of the soil at his residence on the opening morning. “His Holiness took one look at the soil, and then proceeded to write the Tibetan word for “Tibet” in the soil,” said Rigdol. “It was incredibly uplifting to see His Holiness carve the most simple and powerful message on the soil, unequivocally claiming it as Tibet, his and our beloved homeland.”

Dr. Lobsang Sangay, the recently elected Prime Minister of the Tibetan government in exile, was the first person to step on the soil during the opening event Wednesday morning. Many Tibetans offered prayers and prostrations on the soil, while others read poetry, delivered impromptu speeches, and sang traditional Tibetan songs. Elderly Tibetans, some of whom have been separated from their homeland for over five decades, wept as they touched the soil and prayed to an altar with the Dalai Lama’s photo built by the public.

“If merely walking on Tibetan soil here generates such an emotional response, how would it be to walk on Tibetan soil in Tibet,” said Tenzing Rigdol, who is a Tibetan exile educated at the Tibetan Children’s Village, where the site-specific installation is being hosted.

Through Rigdol’s work, Tibetan refugees living in Dharamsala, who have been separated from their families and are forbidden from returning to their homeland, had a chance to step on Tibetan soil. For some, it was the first time in more than fifty years that they have walked on Tibetan soil; for many, born in exile, it was the first time in their lives.

In 2007 when Rigdol’s father fell ill while living as a refugee in New York. His only desire, to visit Tibet just once before he died, went unfulfilled. It was in his father’s dying wish, exemplifying the exile Tibetans’ longing to return to their country, that Rigdol found the inspiration to pursue the project.

About the artist: Tenzing Rigdol is a Tibetan contemporary artist whose artwork ranges from painting, sculpture, drawing, collage, digital, to video installation, site-specific and performance art. He has extensively exhibited his artworks throughout the United States in various museums, and also in London, Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Israel, Madrid and Mumbai. Rigdol’s artwork is held in museums and collections worldwide and is represented by Rossi & Rossi gallery in London. Additionally, he is also a poet. His poetry books titled “R”—the Frozen Ink (2008), Anatomy of Nights (2011), Butterfly’s Wings (2011) were published by Tibet Writes. He lives in New York.


Art for Tibet III: Online Auction Extended

On October 14th, more than 50 acclaimed artists exhibited their work together in support of the Tibetan freedom struggle. The 3rd annual Art for Tibet show featured top contemporary Tibetan and international artists, including Shepard Fairey, Pema Rinzin, Richard Gere, Ryan McGinness, Tenzing Rigdol, Swoon, Gonkar Gyatso, The Sucklord (star of Bravo Network’s “Work of Art” Season 2) and many more.


While we’re sad that it’s over, we are happy to announce that the online auction has been extended until October 24th, where new lots are now listed with remaining art works, whose reserves have been lowered. To browse and bid online, visit:

Thank you to everyone who was able to attend the incredible evening, and to the organizing committee who worked tirelessly to make it all happen. We look forward to seeing everyone again next year at Art for Tibet IV.

Art for Tibet III

ART FOR TIBET is an annual charity auction held in New York City that showcases work from a diverse international pool of established and emerging artists, including a growing number of outstanding contemporary Tibetan artists. For many Tibetan artists this show is a rare and vital opportunity to express their artistic voices and exhibit their work without risk of imprisonment.

Hosted at the Joshua Liner Gallery in Chelsea, New York City, the show will feature more than 50 contemporary Tibetan and international artists, including Shepard Fairey, Pema Rinzin, Richard Gere, Ryan McGinness, Tenzing Rigdol, David Ellis, Gonkar Gyatso, Swoon and many more.

All artwork in the show will be sold via a silent auction on the evening of October 14. The evening event will feature a live-painting demonstration, DJ sets by Spirit Bear, and a silent auction that will offer excellent works with low opening bids. Drinks will be generously provided by Beerlao. Pre-bidding will be available online at beginning October 7.

This event is made possible by the support of Honorary Committee members Sheprard Fairey, Richard Gere and Professor Robert A.F. Thurman, as well as Curatorial Committee members Simeon Lipman, Joshua Liner, Daniel Subkoff, Pema Rinzin, Tenzing Rigdol, Andrew Lockhart, Bruno Levy, Joseph Ian Henrikson, John Peet, Lisa Shimamura, Kurt Langer and Zahra Sherzad.

Auction and event information and a full list of participating artists are available at All proceeds from the event will benefit Students for a Free Tibet (SFT).

Read SFT’s Press Release here

A Rare Video of Devotion & Protest Surfaces from Tibet.

This powerful video recently received from Tibet shows a dramatic scene from early 2006 in Machu County in Amdo, eastern Tibet. Thousands of Tibetans, mostly nomads can be seen making religious offerings for the protection of wildlife, praying for the Dalai Lama’s long life, and jubilantly discarding animal pelts into a massive bonfire while screaming “Long live the Dalai Lama” and “Victory to Tibet!”

The burning of animal fur, some of which had the monetary value equivalent to a car, was carried out in response to a statement by the Dalai Lama in which he said he felt “ashamed” when he saw Tibetans wearing the pelts of endangered animals such as tigers or leopards.

Within days of the Dalai Lama’s appeal, tens of thousands of Tibetans from across Tibet held massive gatherings where animal skin hats, shirts and Chubas were thrown into large bonfires.

For background information on the 2006 fur burning campaign and analysis on how wearing exotic pelts is not part of traditional Tibetan culture, read “Burning the animal skin, revolution sparked in Tibet.”

Since 2006, Tibetans in Tibet have consistently shunned the practice of wearing clothing decorated with furs. In many cases Tibetans are ordered to wear expensive furs during traditional festivals to provide tourists with an image of Tibetan culture that conforms to Chinese stereotypes. In a dramatic assertion of Tibetan identity, this state sponsored re-invention of Tibetan culture has been rejected by Tibetans.

Many Tibetans across Tibet are engaging in a self-reliance movement by taking concrete, sustainable actions as part of Tibet’s Lhakar or “White Wednesday” movement.

For more on Tibet’s Lhakar movement, go to:

SFT DC’s Lhakar Protest & Chinese Minister of Cultural Repression

On Wednesday, September 21, 2011, Cai Wu, Minister of Culture of People’s Republic of China gave a talk in Washington D.C. titled “Chinese Culture and China’s Peaceful Development.” The event was closed to public and entrance was on invitation only. Following a very short notice about the information regarding the talk, DC SFT crew gathered to hold a protest outside the building’s premises.

Holding posters that said “Cai Wu – Chinese Minister of Cultural Repression,” we stood by the main entrances to the Woodrow Wilson Center where the talk was being held as we tried to catch the attention of the minister and his envoy going into the building. Unfortunately, we could not say for certain that his envoy did cross paths with us but the protestors accomplished a lot more: we engaged with the people who were guests at the event and told them about the realities of the cultural, religious and political repression of the Tibetan people, which was probably going to be contradicted by the presentation that they were just about to witness. We also engaged with a  number of people within the premises who were drawn to our colorful posters and the unmistakable Tibetan flag that is seldom seen in Washington.

One of the event attendees stopped to introduce himself and expressed his support for the Tibetan people around the world. Biking down the road and recently unemployed, as he informed me, he couldn’t figure out why he had an invitation to this event in the first place. He offered to give it to one of us, so we could ask Minister Wu to answer questions about the true realities on the ground, but on grounds of identification checks we decided against it.

I realized in those hours that there are people who are becoming increasingly aware of China’s gross mistreatment of Tibetans are willing to show solidarity with the cause of freedom of Tibet. Unfortunately, the decisions-makers in Washington, situated not very far from our protest, hesitate to do so.

SFT Regional Coordinator for Mid-Atlantic Region

Victory: 23 Tibetans Released in Nepal

Two weeks ago, two groups of Tibetans were nearing the end of their harrowing journey to escape from one of the most ruthless governments in the world.

Having crossed the notorious Himalayan mountains on foot, hiding by day and walking by night, one group reached Nepalese territory on September 11, followed by the second group two days later.

They had barely had a moment to celebrate their freedom when they were arrested by Nepalese border police.

The Chinese government demanded that Nepal repatriate the escaping Tibetans, making the outlandish claim that the 8 children among the 23 escapees were “victims of human trafficking.” In the many decades that Tibetans have been entering Nepal from Tibet, there has not been one known case of human trafficking.

In this case, the 23 Tibetans in detention were interviewed by Nepal’s Department of Immigration and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The reasons the group gave for leaving Tibet are: to visit the Dalai Lama, to become a monk, to learn the English language, and to attend an important religious teaching in Bodh Gaya, India in late December. These statements are consistent with traditional reasons Tibetans flee Tibet, compiled over decades.

Given this escalation in Beijing’s pressure on Kathmandu, fear spread amongst Tibetans and Tibet support groups: there was a real risk of repatriation. We could not let this happen.

Tibetans releasedFollowing an intense week-long campaign that combined behind-the-scenes diplomacy with grassroots public pressure and direct intervention tactics by Tibetans and their supporters around the world, we won.

Yesterday, at 1pm Kathmandu time, the Nepalese authorities released the 23 Tibetans to the UNHCR. It was an electrifying victory for the Tibet movement, and a life-changing moment for the 23 Tibetans, who are now at the Tibetan transit center receiving medical treatment and awaiting safe passage to India.

I would like to personally thank everyone involved in this rescue effort, especially those who called, emailed, or faxed the Nepalese embassies and leaders.

In light of China’s escalating attempts to influence and control the Nepalese government, this was a poignant reaffirmation of our ability to mobilize a diverse network of global activists.

It reminded me that we should never underestimate the power of our collective advocacy for Tibet.

As we celebrate this victory, it’s sobering to recall that exactly five years ago this month, the journey of another group of Tibetans traveling the same path came to a tragic end. While crossing the snow-covered Nangpa pass, they were spotted by Chinese border police who took aim and opened fire on the group.

Climbers at nearby Cho Oyu Advance Base Camp witnessed the attack and were able to record the Tibetans rushing for cover, but there was little room to hide in the bright snow. They were left exposed to repeated rounds of fire from behind and Kelsang Namtso, a 17-year-old nun, died that day. Over 40 others were captured and detained by Chinese authorities. Thanks to the moral courage of a Romanian climber who filmed the assault, combined with an international outcry and sustained campaign that followed, the surviving members of the group were eventually released.

Those of us who have never crossed the Himalayas on foot, never risked frostbite and snow blindness, never slept in subzero temperatures, can hardly imagine the horror of the journey that most Tibetan refugees see as a fact of life.

As we observe the fifth anniversary of the Nangpa la atrocity and reflect on the positive outcomes of our collective efforts just these past few days, let us recommit and rededicate ourselves to the struggle for a free Tibet. Ultimately, only a free and democratic Tibet ruled by Tibetans can ensure that no Tibetan will ever have to risk their life to find freedom on the other side of the Himalayas.

Tibet will be free.

Executive Director

Support SFT’s continued advocacy for the Tibetan cause:

Learn more:

China Fails to Get Tibetan Refugees Deported from Nepal (Times of India):

Nepal Hands over Detained Tibetans to UNHCR:

Read SFT’s letter to the Nepalese Prime Minister, delivered to him on Tuesday:

Read more about the Nangpa Pass shootings in Jonathan Green’s Murder in the High Himalaya:

Chinese connection… to Gadhafi

First Tunisia, then Egypt, and now Libya…

With each passing day the world moves further away from tyranny. Occasionally, the soldiers of peace suffer a setback, but eventually, freedom triumphs over oppression.

Last week, after four decades of oppressing his people, Colonel Gadhafi fled Tripoli, the Libyan capital. He is believed to be hiding in Bani Walid, his original hometown and now his final holdout.

In their rush to vacate Tripoli, Gadhafi’s security officials made a careless mistake. They discarded government files – including a military shopping list – near a garbage pile on the side of the road. One of the partially destroyed documents found by a Canadian journalist proves that in July, state-owned Chinese military firms offered to sell $200 million worth of weapons to Gadhafi.

China’s foreign ministry has tried to claim that Beijing didn’t know about the offers. But these firms are state-owned and state-run; their executives are hired and fired by Beijing. The fact that just last month, China was engaged in arms sales to Gadhafi, after signing the UN arms embargo on Libya in February, reveals the hypocrisy at the heart of China’s authoritarian regime.

Tibetans know better than anyone that Beijing specializes in signing a peace deal with one hand while pulling the trigger with the other.

There is no question that China’s leaders wanted Gadhafi to remain in power. Propping up other dictatorships not only advances China’s strategic interests in those countries, but also provides cover for China’s own authoritarian system at home and on the international stage. This is why we see Beijing using its financial and political clout to support the world’s most bloody tyrants – from Burma, to North Korea, to Sudan, to Libya. The Chinese government has become the lifeline of dictatorships around the world.

However, the tide has begun to turn against them.

First Ben Ali, then Mubarak, and now Gadhafi… day by day, there are fewer dictators and tyrants left. In a world where the tide of freedom is rising against the dams of repression, China’s leaders know their days are numbered.

Ultimately, when people withdraw their consent to be ruled and become uncontrollable, even in small ways in their daily lives, no amount of military might or political force can stop them. Since 2008 we’ve seen Tibetans harnessing this power by engaging in small acts of non-cooperation with the Chinese state. In this emerging movement lies the potential of a powerful popular struggle gaining a foothold in Tibet.

There is no denying that the winds of change from the Middle East are blowing over the Himalayas, and Tibetans are drawing inspiration from the Arab Spring.

As certainly as the life of dictators and “strongmen” come to an end, so too will the one-party rule of the Chinese government.

Ultimately, oppression in all forms is impermanent.

Tawu Before We Knew Tsewang Norbu

Tsewang Norbu’s last words were “we Tibetan people want freedom.”

For those of us in the Tibet movement, it may be months or years before we login to Facebook without seeing images of Tsewang Norbu. On August 15th, 2011, when 29-year-old monk Tsewang Norbu doused himself in petrol, then in an inconceivable act of sacrifice and courage, lit himself ablaze in protest, our hearts sank with sadness.

To understand what would bring a Buddhist monk to preform such an extreme act of bravery and desperation, we must look at the environment Tsewang Norbu lived in before his tragic self-immolation.

Tawu County sits in the hills of Kham, Eastern Tibet. It has been described as a beautiful mountainous valley where people have no greater devotion then that for the Dalai Lama. Tsewang Norbu knew a different Tawu.

In late 2008 I briefly visited Tawu. On one occasion a young monk came to me and asked where I had learned Tibetan. Upon hearing that I had learned in India, he clasped his hands and quietly whispered “Dalai Lama, we Tibetans want him to return.”

A relatively small County, the police presence in Tawu is overwhelming. There are five prison/detention centers in Tawu. In the months before Tsewang Norbu self-immolated, tanks patrolled the streets, police ordered locals to present their identification cards as they walked through the market, and trucks of Chinese soldiers road up and down Tawu’s streets. For Tsewang Norbu, the situation was unbearable.

These photos taken in Tawu before August 15th show the Tawu which Tsewang Norbu knew.

Only a month before Tsewang Norbu’s brave act, thousands of Tibetans in Tawu defied orders from Chinese officials and military personal to not celebrate the Dalai Lama’s birthday. Shown in these dramatic photos, nuns from a local nunnery led thousands of Tibetans up into the hills of Tawu past the view of the military. The Tibetans made sangsol offerings, threw tsampa in air, and sang songs to celebrate.

As they descended back into the city, they were confronted by Chinese police. It is not clear what happened next.

Unfortunately, Norbu’s act did not come as a shock to us. Only Six-months earlier Tsewang Norbu’s death, Phuntsok Jarutsang set himself on fire in protest. One year before Phuntsok, Tapey, another monk from Nagaba also immolated. The desperation felt by these monks and the conditions which produced their unbelievable acts must end.

Without any doubt, the acts of Tsewang Norbu, Phuntsok Jarutsang and Tapey will be committed to the pages of Tibetan history. I only hope their brave and inconceivable acts of protest will be the final ones before their chapter is closed and Tibet is free.

The uprising goes on…

One of the greatest advantages of working with Students for a Free Tibet is getting to meet incredible people.

A couple of days ago, a Tibetan woman walked into SFT Headquarters here in New York to pick up her daughters, who happened to be volunteering with us. With her young daughters in mind, she talked about the necessity and challenges of keeping one’s language alive in a foreign land. We lamented that Tibetan readers suffer from a dearth of contemporary reading materials in Tibetan.

I offered her copies of a few books we keep stocked here in the office, including the Tibetan translation of “From Dictatorship to Democracy” (in Tibetan: སྲིད་དབང་སྒེར་འཛིན་ལམ་ལུགས་ནས་དམངས་གཙོའི་ལམ་ལུགས་བར།.) As I passed her the books, she mentioned that she’s from a family with a long history in publishing. I was shocked when she then told me that her father is Paljor Norbu, the 83-year-old printer and publisher who was arrested in 2008 and accused of printing Tibetan flags. Less than a month after his arrest, he was sentenced to 7 years in prison in a closed-door trial. You can read more about Paljor Norbu here:

More than 3,654 of you have taken action on Paljor Norbu’s behalf. For this, I thank you. If you haven’t already, please sign the

83-year-old Paljor Norbu


It was deeply humbling to hear Paljor Norbu’s daughter speak about her father, who ran one of Tibet’s longest-running printing houses. The last conversation she had with him was over the phone in 2007. He said to her, “Don’t worry about us [Tibetans in Tibet]. We’re being looked after very well by the Chinese government. They have even provided me with four security personnel who are standing just outside the door.”

Such sarcasm and dark humor mark almost every phone conversation between Tibet and the outside world. However, in spite of the overwhelming repression, Tibetans continue to resist. Almost as remarkable as our unwavering resistance to China’s occupation is the fact that Tibetans have not lost our trademark sense of humor. Perhaps the two are more connected than one would necessarily assume.

Paljor Norbu is likely Tibet’s oldest political prisoner. The youngest prisoners of conscience in Tibet are not even 20.
In recent weeks, a young Tibetan living here in New York has been making appeals on behalf of his 17-year-old brother who was arrested in Tibet. On July 10, Lobsang Phuntsok, along with two other young Tibetans, Samphel Dhondup and Lobsang Lhundup, bravely stood in the busy Kardze marketplace in Kham, eastern Tibet handing out flyers calling for Tibetan independence and shouting slogans demanding the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. They were quickly arrested, but not before word could get out about their brave act of resistance.

17-year-old Lobsang Phuntsok

Please take action for these three young Tibetans by signing an online petition for their release:

This year alone, more than 150 Tibetans have been arrested for political activity. While redoubling our efforts to advocate for their release, we must also take a moment to recognize the incredible truth that these numbers reflect: the great Tibetan uprising goes on.

Every Tibetan, from the youngest to the oldest, is involved in the resistance in one capacity or another. Whether through printing banned materials, or refusing to be silenced by China’s machinery of oppression, or simple acts of promoting our language and culture, six million Tibetans have turned into perhaps the world’s largest nonviolent army.

Meeting Paljor Norbu’s daughter and seeing her defiant courage further cemented my belief that we will see a free Tibet in our lifetime.

With hope,

Tenzin Dorjee,
Executive Director

P.S. If you can, please donate to support Students for a Free Tibet’s efforts to bring about lasting change on the ground inside Tibet:

Student Protests Continue to Sweep Across Tibet

Late in the afternoon on July 10th, 2011, three students arrived at the main market of Kardze County.  The students began distributing pamphlets and shouting slogans calling for “unity amongst Tibetans, the return of the Dalai Lama, and the independence of Tibet.” Almost immediately the Public Security Bureau officers arrived and began beating the students. The three students are Lobsang Phuntsok, Samphel and Lobsang Lhundup.

Again on July 29th, only in his mid 20s, Lobsang Ngodup staged a dramatic protest on the main road of Kardze County. He unveiled a portrait of the Dalai Lama and began chanting slogans. Eyewitnesses reported that he “continued to raise slogans for Tibet’s independence even while Chinese security personnel beat him severely.”

Lobsang Phuntsok, 17

Lobsang Ngodup

Similarly, in north eastern Tibet (Amdo), over 400 students from “Golog Senior Tibetan High School” demonstrated against destructive mining in the region. In late July, the students set out on a 60 kilometer march to the site of a copper mine in Dawu, Golog. The students later staged a sit-in at the county government offices. Police forced the students to disperse although no arrests were made.

News of the protest was reported by the Tibet Times and Voice of Tibet Radio. A photo of the protest was sent from Golog to sources in exile and later posted on Chinese social networking websites. Although promptly taken down, the photo attracted dozens of supportive comments.

Students in Golog stage sit-in at government offices.


Photo posted on Chinese social networking website


One user who shared the photo commented:

“Forward this article if you are inspired by the sacrifice of our brave Tibetan brothers who are rising across Tibet.”

In 2010, a wave of student protests spread across Tibet and culminated with widespread protests for language freedom in late October. Students both in and outside Tibet are utilizing the power of nonviolent resistance and continue to be at the forefront of the Tibetan freedom struggle.