Chapter 2: Ashes & Ice | The Enemies Project

Photographic Documentation of a Life-Art Action

I am afraid they will imprison my family if your photographs are seen.

Chapter 2: Ashes and Ice | The Enemies Project

The second chapter of the Enemies Project was to be in Tibet. I traveled first to Dharamsala, India – the home of Tibetan refugees in India. There I found a mix of escaped monks, former political prisoners, and everyday people who had come to India to be closer to the Dalai Lama or just to have a life with more freedom. Nobody was willing to be photographed with a Chinese national. There had recently been a failed assassination attempt on the Dalai Lama, and Chinese nationals were unlikely to be found anywhere in the area. There was a great deal of strong emotions about the subject of the Chinese occupation of Tibet. Many lay people I talked to spoke with reserved antipathy about China, but the monks, true to their Buddhist teachings, were positive and said little about the current situation.

Most of the people I met feared the Chinese government and were afraid to be photographed for anything remotely connected to the China-Tibet conflict for fear that their families back in Tibet could face retribution. And so I photographed them covering their faces. Some former political prisoners talked freely of their imprisonment and torture saying that they had nothing to lose anymore.

To a person, every Tibetan I met told me that I should not try to photograph Tibetans and Chinese together. They were convinced that the Chinese government would manipulate the situation and use the photographs for propaganda. While I was in Dharamsala, several monks set themselves on fire in Tibet. The news traveled across the high Himalayan peaks faster than wind-borne ashes, and the streets would fill with mourners holding grainy cell phone pictures of the dead. The pace of self immolations picked up and China closed Tibet to foreign tourists.

Again, though the goal of the project was the actions of attempting to bring together enemies, I was struck with the need to create a photographic remnant of some sort. I created these pieces as an expression of the stark contrast I saw in the Tibetan refugee community in India. The Tibetans there are happy to be able to be away from Chinese rule, but they dearly miss their country and many of them harbor deep anger and resentment and fear. Great happiness and great fear living side by side.

——— About The Enemies Project ———

This is one chapter in a larger project called “The Enemies Project.” In an effort to blur the distinction between art and life, I traveled to conflicts around the world seeking to unite current and past enemies. Read more about the project here.
Video: “ENEMIES – My Search For Light In Terrible Conflicts,” TEDx San Antonio, 2013
Video: “About the Enemies Project”