Tibet: Culture on the Edge
Photographs by Phil Borges
October 1 – 31, 2011
Diane Farris Gallery is pleased to present works from photographer Phil Borges’ new book TIBET: Culture on the Edge as the gallery’s first online exhibition. We are privileged to provide an opportunity for the public to meet the artist, hear him give one of his dynamic illustrated talks and have him sign his newly released book.
Artist Talk & Book Signing: Thursday, October 20th, 6:30 – 8:30
The Waterfall Building, 205 – 1540 West 2nd Avenue, Vancouver, BC
Link to learn more about Ticket & Event Information or scroll down to view images and read about the work.
Contact us at or for pricing and availability.
Lake Yihun Lhatso, 19.5 x 38.5 inches framed (12 x 32 inch image)
This is the beautiful sacred glacial lake of Yihun Lhatso. For those who have trained their minds and have the pure vision to perceive, the mountains and rocks surrounding the lake are said to assume the divine form of the Cakrasamvara mandala. Meditation on this mandala is an advanced Tibetan tantric Buddhist practice that achieves enlightenment through the union of compassion and wisdom. This young monk from the Derge Gochen Monastery came to the lake to spend a week in meditation.
Lhagong Temple, 27 x 23 inches framed (21 x 15 inch image)
Tagong, 11,100 feet, Sichuan Province. Every morning Tibetan Buddhists walk clockwise around various objects of veneration such as monasteries, stupas or sacred mountains. The path around these sacred objects, the kora, can range from several yards to several miles. I’ve watched hundreds of devotees make their way around the koras of monasteries and mountains in spite of their arthritic hips, knees or backs. Many walk for hours keeping track of each circumambulation with prayer beads or small stones placed at the starting point.
Gy elmo Nurdo Stupa, 27 x 23 inches framed (21 x 15 inch image)
Near Danba, 6,100 feet, Sichuan Province. Devotees throw small “mani papers” into the air on mountain passes and various ritual locations to help spread prayers for well being. The papers are typically printed with the mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum” and the lung ta (wind horse), the symbol for good fortune. Juniper branches are burned for incense and to sanctify the air and help spread the blessings.
Stupas and prayer flags near Yushu, Qinghai Province. 19.5 x 38.5 inches framed (12 x 32 inch image)
Stupas, or chortens, were originally created as burial mounds. Although burial stupas are still reserved for high lamas, most stupas just contain sacred relics and text. Since the stupa is a symbol of the enlightened, or Buddha Mind, the person who contributes to the construction of one, who sacrifices something of his time or wealth, is generously giving to others. Building a stupa, or contributing in any way toward one, is considered an integral part of the spiritual life. Consequently stupas are seen everywhere in Tibet.
Tsetsen Lhamo, 25, 27 x 23 inches framed (21 x 15 inch image)
Mato, 14,100 feet, Qinghai Province. Tsetsen Lhamo is a member of a very distinctively dressed and independently minded nomadic people called the Golok who inhabit the southern region of Qinghai Province. She said the grasslands have been getting worse every year, forcing her to reduce her herd down to twenty yaks. Fortunately, this year the grass was better than last because of the unusual rains that came in early summer. The weather can be brutal here.
Princess Wencheng Temple Kora, 27 x 23 inches framed (21 x 15 inch image)
Near Yushu, 12,200 feet, Qinghai Province.
Merda, 2, 27 x 23 inches framed (21 x 15 inch image)
Mount Kailash Kora, 15,500 feet, Ngari Province. My guide told me that Merda’s mother survived a dog massacre carried out by the local authorities. Three years ago the large vultures that are instrumental in Tibetan sky burials mysteriously disappeared from the Mount Kailash area. The monks who perform the sky burial began to rely on dogs to dispose of the deceased’s remains. Having developed a taste for human flesh the dogs became dangerous and actually attacked and killed a pilgrim. Not knowing which dogs were responsible, all dogs in the Kailash area were ordered to be killed. Merda’s mother was shot but survived. Merda faithfully followed us for three days as we walked the Kailash Kora.
Flooded Pasture land, Yamdrok-Tso, 19.5 x 38.5 inches framed (12 x 32 inch image)
Desertification, 19.5 x 38.5 inches framed (12 x 32 inch image)
Karma Dechen, 65, 27 x 23 inches framed (21 x 15 inch image)
Near Dorjeling Nunnery, 14,600 feet, Lhasa Prefecture (TAR). Karma Dechen is a follower of the controversial diety Dorje Shugden. Sixteen years ago Karma Dechen was banished from her nunnery because of her allegiance to this “bad protector” that has been condemned by the Dalai Lama. As I was interviewing her, my translator/guide suddenly jumped up and ran from her small temple. He later told me that Karma Dechen’s energy could hurt him, but I would probably be alright.
Tsekyi Lhamo, 10 & Tsering Lhamo, 11, 27 x 23 inches framed (21 x 15 inch image)
Namtso Lake, 15,500 feet, Lhasa Prefecture (TAR). Today many of the young women on the Tibetan Plateau protect their skin from the high altitude’s intense sunlight and the bitterly cold winds with colorful headscarves and facemasks. Even though there is no religious significance for women to cover their face, it has become so common that some women seem to be uncomfortable showing their face in public—especially to foreigners like me.
Wanben, 30, 27 x 23 inches framed (21 x 15 inch image)
Hongyuan, 11,400 feet, Sichuan Province. Wanben is a nomad whose workday begins at six in the morning and finishes after dark around ten. He owns thirty yaks and helps his cousin herd their family’s animals. He has never been to school and can’t read or write, but now he would have a difficult time living without the phone he got three years ago. He checked in with his wife and his three-year-old daughter while I was with him.
Lamo Tso, 26, 27 x 23 inches framed (21 x 15 inch image)
Yellow River (tributary), 9,800 feet, Gansu Province. Although never educated, Lamo Tso and her husband are considered wealthy among Tibetan nomads. They have more than 100 yaks and 500 sheep. My guide told me the coral jewelry Lamo Tso was wearing is worth well over a thousand dollars. In general nomads are more wealthy than farmers, in fact the word for yak in Tibetan translates as wealth.
For over twenty years Phil Borges has lived with and documented indigenous and tribal cultures around the world. Through his work, he strives to create a heightened understanding of the issues faced by people in the developing world.
Lamo Tso, 26
Fifteen years after his successful series and book Tibetan Portrait, Borges returned to Tibet to witness a land and culture on the edge of disappearing. Borges states, “The effects of climate change are accelerating on the Tibetan Plateau. Tibet’s glaciers, which feed Asia’s major rivers and supply nearly 2 billion people with their life-giving water, are disappearing at an alarming rate. Large areas of the once-fertile land are turning to desert and the Tibetan nomads and farmers are finding it harder than ever to subsist.”
Known as the “water tower of Asia,” the Tibetan Plateau is heating up twice as fast as the global average. Tibet’s rapidly melting glaciers-along with recent unprecedented development on the plateau-are quickly changing the lives of the deeply devotional nomads, monks, and farmers who have lived in this area for centuries.
Karma Dechen, 65
In his first full-colour series, Phil Borges introduces viewers to the Tibetan landscape and people through astonishing panoramas and intimate portraits. Pairing each image with a personal story and insight into Tibetan culture, Borges attempts to create relationships between the audience and his photographic subjects. He writes, “I want the viewer to see these people as individuals, to know their names and a bit of their history, not just to view them as an anonymous part of some remote ethnic or tribal group.”
Lake Yihun Lhatso
In addition to the online exhibition, weekly blog posts about Phil Borges and highlights of selected works, the gallery will host a lecture by Phil Borges in the Waterfall Building on October 20, 2011. The artist will be available to sign books after the lecture. To pre-order a signed copy of Tibet: Culture on the Edge, or any of Borges other books, please contact Stacey White at .
Watch Phil Borges on Studio 4 with Fanny Kiefer
Thursday October 20 @ 9am, 1pm, 4pmor 9pm on Shaw Cable
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