It is hard to write a post about looking back 20 years that isn’t a bit cliché ridden!* I will try to dodge this trap!! 20 years ago this month Mal and I took our darling girls, then aged 13 and 14, with our dear friend Cath (Tashi delek you!) to Tibet. Since our own teens we had been involved with Amnesty and active members of Free Tibet societies; concerned like so many about the impact of the Chinese occupation of Tibet. I had stayed with a family in a Tibetan refugee camp in Nepal and we both were desperately sad about what we knew was happening to Tibetan culture in China. I had wanted to travel to Tibet for many years and we felt that opportunities to do so were being limited. We knew a train line was being built and we knew the restrictions on travel would increase so we bit the bullet, readied the girls as much as we could and went.
In 2000, you could travel to Tibet in groups of 5 and had to have a government guide. Back then it was possible to have a Tibetan guide (rather than Chinese) and we were incredibly fortunate to have as our guide an amazing young Tibetan man** who had lived in India and returned to Tibet to act as a guide but also to attempt to keep people IN Tibet informed about what was happening outside. He knew his days as a registered guide were numbered. We were quite clearly being followed on our trip. The watchers were so obvious that our daughters asked about the men in suits following us.
I could write so much. In my travel journal I kept using the phrase stunningly sad. The trip was stunningly sad. I was in tears A LOT. We met incredible people. We saw astonishing beauty. We saw dreadful destruction. We saw phenomenal courage and resilience. We saw deep brokenness. In 2020, this strange year of no-one going anywhere, a notion came to me to somehow mark some of my travels with my art. This consolidated and when I realised that our Tibet trip was 20 years ago I decided to start by making some pieces responding to this. These two necklaces are my first efforts.
Yamdrok Tso (Jade Lake) is a beautiful sacred lake which has now been dammed for hydro-electricity. The setting was exquisitely beautiful but sitting on a rock listening to the wind whipping shredded prayer flags and gazing down at the lake was heartbreaking. If the dam broke two towns would be threatened and that the very existence fo the dam was already changing the eco culture of the place. Artemisia (wormwood) grew wild and every time you brushed past it the smell was released. I have grown wormwood in every garden I have had since. I was guided by the colours, the ambiguity I felt…the textures. My intention (thanks gorgeous Sage Bray ) was to capture the mood. My mood! Once in Dharan where we lived for 4 years an old Tibetan lady walked down the street wearing necklace of amber beads the size of bantam eggs. She probably wore them every day. I wanted one necklace to have the sense of those beads. So present and still. The second necklace uses thousands of tiny pote (seed) beads from Kathmandu. I made two long bone-like tubes imprinted with a Tibetan wood block inspired by the bone horns used in Buddhist ceremonies. I may or may not have made a bead using something that looks very like currency from an occupying country. Both these necklaces have been made slowly….with lots of listening and dipping into my journal and journalling and thinking and feel very significant. Colleen (the astonishing artist behind African Baroque Textiles) thank you for encouraging me to do more than just talk about this on Instagram!!
Anyway, I have a table littered with sketches for designs and ideas for more Tibet memories so strap yourself down. It is a bit symbolic too that today is 12 months to the day since my little op. This time 12 months ago I was still under then knife, had been for hours and still had hours to go. Feeling very grateful today to be standing upright and not holding a shopping bag full of drains!
*I think I say this because on reflection my dear old journal was a bit cliché ridden!
**Still too scared to write his name. He could have several blog posts devoted to him. I often wonder what happened to him and his brother, a monk we visited.