‘Tibetan Frames’
by Jasmine Shah Varma
(Mid-Day. August 18, 1999)

Diane Barker with some of her photographs

Diane Barker (MD Photo: Shailesh Mule)

Tibet to us is a country of Yak and Yeti, snow-capped mountains, Buddhist monks in maroon robes, or maybe the country which Richard Gere visits. Is there anything beyond that?

There certainly is and it is very much in India. There are as many as 1.2 lakh Tibetan refugees in India and an estimated 400 in Mumbai who live a life of unemployment and uncertainity. Among other problems, their biggest is communication. But the conditions of Tibetans in Tibet, where the Chinese are outnumbering them, is worse.

Since 1949, Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh has been the seat of Tibetans from where their government-in-exile functions under the leadership of the Dalai Lama. A photographer from Worcestershine, UK, Diane Barker has been involved with the refugees since 1962. An exhibition of her photographs of the refugees since 1992. An exhibition opens today at the Piramal Galery, National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA) at Nariman Point, and ends on August 28.

Barker's photographs capture the moments she has spent with the Tibetans in Dharamsala and Nepal. Monks busy making a sand Mandala, religious ceremonies where some young girls pay attention while others get up to mischief; prayer wheels; Tibetan nomads — all feature in her colourful photographhs. She has also captured a hunger strike that Tibetans held in Delhi earlier this year.

Barker's involvement with the Tibetans can be said to have been written in her destiny. In the city for the first time for her in India, Barker says, 'I read Dalai Lama's autobiography My Land and My People and was touched. I am interested in the Tibetan culture and concerned about their cause. The Tibetans are so threatened in their own land, it is very sad.'

Barker has been visiting India for a few months every year since 1992. Her association with Tibetans began since the time she spent with a small group of refugees in Sikkim in 1992. She was inspired to begin documenting the Tibetans in exile. Since then her pictures have appeared in many magazines and books.

She has spent a lot of time travelling and trying to understand their culture but she modestly claims that she knows little. However through her photographs one gets a peek at the life of the monks, the gustures during religious ceremonies, the monasteries and so on.

Barker's interaction with the Dalai Lama was brief. This exhibition includes an image of him meditating. Speaking of her interaction with him, Barker says, 'I was awe-struck by him. He exudes an extraordinary aura.'

Besides the exhibition of photographs, a film festival for the members of NCPA has been organised with the help from Friends of Tibet (INDIA), a Mumbai based organisation. Starting today, the festival features the famous film 'Kundun' directed by Martin Scorsese; 'Tibet In India', a documentary film; 'The Knowledge Of Healing', a documentary film directed by Frank Reichle, and 'Seven Years In Tibet', a feature film directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud.

This event is a prelude to the 'Festival of Tibet 2000' which will be a six-day festival of films, crafts, food and music organised by Friends of Tibet (INDIA) and Tibetan Youth Congress. President of the organisation Sethu Das says, 'The purpose of the festival is to spread awareness and keep people informed about Tibet and the relevant issues. There is a long history of association between India and Tibet.

Here is a good opportunity to explore this association.