The Organizing Committee of the 2014 Himalayan Studies Conference (HSC3) are delighted to announce the following two keynote speakers:

The increasing presence in Tibetan poetry and films of the disappearing herders’ black tent
Françoise Robin, Professor, ASIEs/Inalco

Concluding many decades of settlement policies targeting the rural Tibetan population, the mid- to late 2000s saw, with varying speed and rhythm, the near completion of the resettlement of herders, especially in Qinghai province.

Both exile pro-Tibet activists and scholars of Tibetan studies took a rather late interest in this radical shift; and anthropologists, geographers and environmentalists are only now studying its logic and implications. To this day, however, few analysts have paid attention to public discussions within Tibet on the shifts in environmental imaginings brought about by these policies, and even less to local artistic productions that have accompanied them.

In the Tibetan literary scene of the 1980s and 1990s, the ‘black tent’ appeared as an unproblematic key element in Tibetan self-representations. As early as 2006, however, the acclaimed poet-cum-cadre ‘Ju Skal bzang published an anguished and highly literary plea to an anthropomorphized black tent, which he represented as endowed with agency, because it had ‘decided’ to leave Tibet and the Tibetans.

This early and soft-toned portent gave way three years later to other voices from lesser known poets who started to contest the official narrative of unidirectional progress and development through resettlement. Simultaneously, young, independent filmmakers made a number of short feature films on this same topic.

In my lecture, I will explore the content and evolution of these cultural productions in Tibet, and show how they can be interpreted as reflecting a shifting role for Tibetan artists. From state-sponsored cultural actors in the 1980s, whose intended role was to express gratitude and anchor PRC legitimacy, artists within Tibet have increasingly become committed and embedded social critics.

Robin F

Professor Françoise Robin teaches Tibetan language and literature at Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales (Inalco, France). Her research focuses on the contents, dynamics and social implications of contemporary Tibetan culture in China, including poetry and fiction, women’s writings and the young Tibetan cinema. She has also published translations of proverbs, folktales and contemporary Tibetan literature (Neige by Pema Tseden, Picquier, Paris, 2013), as well as analyses of the current situation in Tibet (Clichés tibétains, Le Cavalier Bleu, Paris, 2011).


Film Screening: Who Will Be A Gurkha? (75 mins, Nepal, 2012)
Kesang Tseten, Filmmaker and writer

Britain began recruiting Nepalis 200 years.  Gurkhas, famous for wielding a curved khukuri knife, have seen numerous wars. 200,000 fought in two world wars;  50,000 were killed.

Gurkha income and pension, though meager, has helped prop Nepal’s economy.  Today, paid manifold times better, Nepalis continue to be lured to the British Army, undergoing grueling tests to win the very few positions available.

Recruitment, carried out with meticulous British planning in the lush lakeside town of Pokhara, presents an elaborate modern-day ritual  born in the days of Empire, offering a fascinating view of institutions and societies, officers and applicants, British and Nepali.

Kesang Tseten’s documentaries have won several awards in film festivals in Nepal and been screened in international film festivals such as the International Documentary Film Festival of Amsterdam, Leipzig International Documentary Festival,  Yamagata, Thessaloniki, Krakow, Viennale, the Margaret Mead Film festival. We Homes Chaps, On the road with the red god: Machhendranath, We Corner People, Who will be a Gurkha and his trilogy of films on Nepali migrant workers in the Gulf have won wide recognition. Tseten has been recipient of grants from Busan, IDFA and the Sundance Institute for his films.  He wrote the original screenplay for the feature Mukundo, which was Nepal’s entry to the academy awards, and KARMA.  Before filmmaking Tseten wrote and edited and was associate editor of Himal Magazine in its early years. He is a graduate of Dr Graham’s School in India and Amherst College and Columbia University in the USA.

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