Tibetan refugees take refuge in art

GMT 17:28 Wednesday ,04 September 2013

 Migrant Voice - Tibetan refugees take refuge in art


  There’s a brief chance to see some moving drawings and paintings by Tibetan refugees, at a small exhibition at Rich Mix in east London. The artworks are by children who have trekked across the Himalayas on foot into Nepal and India, sent by their parents who hope they will get a Tibetan education and a better life across the border. It’s a dangerous, sometimes deadly, journey, over mountain passes in extreme weather. Conditions are dangerous because the guides frequently choose to move in winter when Chinese border patrols are less in evidence. Treacherous trails, frostbite and bullets are among the hazards. In Nepal, the children are housed in a centre run by the Tibetan government in exile. They stay for several weeks until they move to a more permanent centre in India. This is where Art Refuge, a small, London-based organisation run by volunteers, enters their lives. “We provide a staff member to encourage them to draw and paint – they are not formal art classes – and organise games and other activities,” says Frances Fox, who took over Art Refuge in 2004 from two US women. “The aim is to allow the children to express what is going on inside themselves,” she explains. “Most have never drawn or painted before. They become very expressive and we give them a chance to release their trauma in a safe space, with others who have had similar experiences.” Some of the children arrive utterly exhausted, and over-excited at the possibility of meeting the Dalai Lama. “It helps them regain their strength, physically, emotionally and mentally, and calm down. “The programme definitely helps,” she says. “They come out of their shells and join in activities.” Their pictures were previously shown in the Houses of Parliament, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. They won’t be shown again until someone offers a small space. Art Refuge is now setting up two new centres with the Tibetan settlements. In the longer term, says Fox, it would like to work with other refugee communities in Nepal and Britain. • Journey Into Exile is at the Rich Mix, 35 - 47 Bethnal Green Road, London E1 6LA, until Sunday 8 September   Article by: Daniel Nelson The image is one of the drawings from the exhibition: Sonam Dorjee was one of three artists who stuck very close together and were incredibly quiet. They made the most abstract images of any of the children and young people at the centers, frequently using paint and felt tip pens. Afterwards, they all left the centre together to study in Northern India.  


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