Burning against the Dying of the Light, the Body as Site of Radical Protest
Since February 2009, an estimated 155 Tibetans have self-immolated in Tibet. Of these, 133 are known to have died. The whereabouts and condition of those who survived are still largely unknown. While many of those who set fire to themselves were monks and nuns, they also included teachers, students, herdsmen and farmers. The youngest was 15 years old. The self-immolations usually occurred in public spaces – on street corners, outside places of worship – in full view of passers-by. They were acts of protest and they were intended to be witnessed. The actions of the self-immolators in Tibet could similarly be seen to be taking place in the service of a noble goal, fully congruent with the Buddhist ideal of sacrificing oneself for a larger goal that benefits many. Here self-immolation becomes the only action available to protest and draw attention to the increasingly intolerable situation in Tibet, one where all other avenues of peaceful protest have been brutally shut down. Burning the self is transformed into a political action to save a nation. Our lecture for the “Bodies, (un)settled” series will be based on our multimedia installation, Burning Against the Dying of the Light, which was our attempt to respond to and make sense of the self-immolation movement in Tibet. It was exhibited, first at Khoj Studios in New Delhi in 2015 and then as part of Contour Biennale 8 in 2017. Our talk will include photographs, video excerpts, last testaments and fragments of poetry that were presented as part of the installation.
(Un)settled. Performance, protection, and politics of insecurity