Assistant Curator Tom updates us on a recent visit from a Tibetan group to the Horniman.
Two weeks ago Tibetans of mixed parentage came from all over the world to attend a unique gathering in London. One of the core ideas behind the gathering was put to Tibetans of mixed parentage in touch with each other and the Tibetan diaspora as a whole.
Dechen Pemba, who worked with us on our Tibet Food Workshop brought the group to the Horniman.
Alongside permanent displays of Tibetan material in the Music and Centenary Galleries we are currently showing a temporary exhibition of Tibetan Buddhist clay figures, so there was quite a lot to look at and discuss.
It was very interesting to browse our Tibetan exhibits with the group and it made me think about who we display our objects for. With the exception of Dechen, all the visitors were at most half Tibetan. Some had experience of the objects on display, whilst others had not. Some were very involved with Tibetan culture whilst others were not so much so. For all of the group however, the Tibetan objects on display had a particular significance, which was not something shared by other museum visitors.
The information which I could provide about the objects was mainly about the people who had collected them, and didn’t seem particularly relevant to the stories and experiences of the group.
In fact the most interesting thing about the visit was the backgrounds of the different members of the group and the similarities and differences of their experiences growing up mixed Tibetan in differing parts of the world. One member from Arizona told me about how back at home he had a Navajo friend who would turn up to Tibetan meetings and everyone would be none the wiser, mistaking him for Tibetan. He also drew comparisons between the use of silver and turquoise by Navajos and Tibetans. I was very pleased to tell him that the Horniman has played host to both the creation of a sand mandala by monks from Tserkamo Monastery in Ladakh and a sandpainting by Navajo medicine man Fred Stevens Klah.
Another member of the group - who couldn’t be present at the Horniman - was descended from Rinchen Lhamo, a Tibetan woman who had married diplomat Louis Magrath King, probably the first Tibetan-British marriage.
In 1925 they moved to England and Rinchen Lhamo wrote We Tibetans (Seeley Service, 1926), one of the first books written by a Tibetan about Tibetan culture to be published in English. Sadly, in 1929 Richen Lamo succumbed to tuberculosis and died at the age of 29. She is buried in Hildenborough churchyard, alongside her husband.
It was fantastic to welcome the group to the Horniman and gather their perspectives on our Tibetan collections. You can find out more about our work with London's Tibetan Community in the video below.