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Drapchi Elegy

010_09 / 10 March 2017


Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam

Drapchi Elegy, 2017

16 mins 44 secs


Single-channel video, sound, colour.

Co-commissioned by Contour Biennale 8.

With the kind support of the Gujral Foundation and Argos Centre for Art and Media.


'We have been making films together for three decades, telling stories about people our lives have intersected with and inquiring into issues that touch us directly. A recurring subject in our work is Tibet, with which we have been intimately involved; personally, politically, and artistically.


The multipart series Burning Against the Dying of the Light (201517) on view at Contour Biennale 8 examines as well as contextualizes the politics of protest in Tibet, especially in its latest manifestation: the radical practice of self-immolation. It attempts to locate this unprecedented and dramatic expression of dissent within a historical continuum that has its roots in the occupation and colonization of Tibet under Chinese rule six decades ago-an ongoing process that now threatens the very survival of this ancient land as a sovereign and distinct entity. At the same time, by incorporating documentary evidence in the form of citizen videos, portraits, testimonials preceding death, poems, and letters, we attempt to shed light on the unresolved questions of the ethics, motivations, and justifications of this most horrific of political protests by framing them-as do the self-immolators themselves-within the weltanschauung of Tibetan Buddhist philosophy.


The newly commissioned film Drapchi Elegy (2017) builds upon this terrain of resistance through a portrayal of Namdol Lhamo, a middle-aged Tibetan woman who lives in Brussels and works as a housekeeper in an old people's home. Lhamo is one of the famous Drapchi 14, a group of nuns imprisoned in the notorious Drapchi prison of Lhasa in the early 1990s for peacefully demonstrating against the Chinese occupation. This work reflects on the loneliness of political exile, and on the direct progression of the Tibetan freedom struggle, from the defiance of the nuns in the 1990s to the sacrifice of the self-immolators twenty years later.'


The one-channel video installation weaves together vignettes from the everyday life of Namdol Lhamo, an anonymous exile living in Brussels who happens to be one of the famous Singing Nuns of Drapchi, a group of nuns imprisoned in the notorious Drapchi prison of Lhasa in the early 1990s for peacefully demonstrating against Chinese rule. Namdol Lhamo's sentence, along with that of her companions, was further increased when they were discovered to be secretly recording protest songs in prison and smuggling the tapes to the outside world. Namdol Lhamo spent a total of twelveyears in prison.


About the author

Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam

Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam (1959 in New Delhi (India) and 1959 in Darjeeling (India), live in Dharamshala).

In 1990, Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam founded the production company, White Crane Films, which is dedicated to research and to reflect on Tibetan cultural identity and political aspiration. In 2012, the duo founded the Dharamshala International Film Festival, now one of the leading independent film platforms in India. Their work has travelled to several film festivals and recently included a solo exhibition at Khoj Studios in New Delhi (2016), the Dhaka Art Summit (2016), Busan Biennale (2010), the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo (2009), and Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary in Vienna (2009), among others. They have received numerous awards, including the Václav Havel Award at the One World Film Festival in Prague.