Out of Tibet. An intimate portrait of a decade in the lives of Tibetan refugees

Albertina d’Urso has travelled the world photographing Tibetan refugees. Now she needs your support to publish the book Out of Tibet, which tells the story of their efforts to keep their culture alive.

Out of Tibet is a lovingly compiled collection of photographs portraying members of the Tibetan diaspora around the world. It is fruit of over a decade’s work by Albertina d’Urso, an Italian photographer specialised in social and humanitarian reportages – including Welcome to Compton, snapshots of life in one of Los Angeles’s roughest neighbourhoods which won her the Canon Young Photographers Award in 2007. The book and travelling exhibition Out of Tibet is a visual memory of Tibetan natives’ efforts to maintain their culture alive even outside of their homeland. It is being funded via a Kickstarter campaign that needs your support to reach the target of 15,000 euros (over $16,000).


The most famous Tibetan alive, the 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso, was only a teenager when 40,000 Chinese troops occupied what was an independent nation in 1949. At the time, Mao Zedong was China’s new ruler and Tibet was a strategic region because of its richness in resources for mining and position on the border with India.


A government in exile, the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), installed itself under the leadership of Tenzin Gyatso in the northern Indian city of Dharamsala in 1960. It has continued to direct a peaceful resistance in the name of Tibetan liberation ever since. This plight has received a great deal of international attention, and is at the heart of am impassioned protest movement within what is now the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) under China. More than 140 people have immolated themselves since 2009 to protest what they see as the oppressive and unjust Chinese occupation.


The Tibetan diaspora

D’Urso first visited Tibet in 2000 and grew fascinated with its people who, whilst stateless and with a government that no other country recognises, are unified by strong national symbols such as an official language and a supreme spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. Whilst in Tibet she saw its ancient culture being repressed, but when she visited the Tibetan refugee settlement of Bylakuppe in southern India, first established in 1961, she realised that the region’s traditions, religion and culture were still alive and well in those of its people living abroad.


There are over 6 million Tibetans in the world according to CTA census data from 2010, the latest, and almost all of them live inside the TAR and neighbouring provinces. D’Urso has made it her mission to document the lives of Tibetans who have moved to India, where most of the diaspora resides, Nepal, Taiwan, the United States, Canada and Europe. What she found is that, whilst Tibetans have adapted to cultures vastly different from their own, they continue honouring their traditions and beliefs in their private lives.


tibetan monk albertina durso
Ven. Tsering Phuntsok, a Tibetan monk who escaped from Tibet after the 2008 uprising. As most Tibetan refugees, 19 year old Phuntsok crossed over the hazardous Himalayan terrain walking undercover, mostly at night, and sleeping in caves. During the journey he lost his eyesight due to the extreme climatic conditions. Dharamsla, Himachal Pradesh, India, 2008 © Albertina d’Urso


Out of Tibet

It is on the shoulders of these complex circumstances that Out of Tibet stands. The book features the most touching images d’Urso has captured over the years, as well as excerpts of conversations with Tibetan refugees, an introduction by the CTA’s Prime Minister Lobsang Sangay and a forward by none other than Tenzin Gyatso himself. Supporting the book’s publication via Kickstarter simply requires pre-ordering it by the end of February. Its author hopes that one day it will be held in the hands of Tibetans who will have moved back to their homeland, as she says many hope to do, and who will look back onto their time abroad as distant, foreign memories.

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