E-Journal für Kunst- und Bildgeschichte
Saikia, Monalisha

The Library of Tibetan Works and Archives: Diaspora, Memory, and Movement

This study proposes to examine the politics of memory, diaspora, and the Tibetan Movement as articulated in the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives (LTWA), Dharamsala (India) – a symbol of defiance in refuge. Investigating the diasporic reclamation of identity of the Tibetans in exile, a Cultural Memory Studies framework unveils a nuanced yet structured power dynamics in the institution of a library archiving the history, language and culture of a homeland now usurped by imperial dominance. The LTWA is a performative actor of cultural memory. In its valorisation of primarily the religious, it invites participation of the secular as visitor, witness and ritual practice, overlapping boundaries of ideology, hegemony, culture, and consumption. It becomes an agency to sustain the cause of the Tibetan Movement for a lost homeland, becoming a collecting entity of the literary, socio-cultural, and political. The imposing structure and design of LTWA set against the towering mountains that separate India from Tibet, and its distinct array of colours, resembling that found commonly in Tibet, call for attention to the message it evokes – a presence which cannot be overlooked. Its material reality is at once surpassed by its ambivalent intangibility – an assertion as well as a resistance. It beckons not to an unproblematic past and sends a cautionary warning to the outsider – cultural identity is not alienation but a process of exchange. Citizenship is not always a given; it is susceptible to the vicissitudes of circumstances. What seems like an apolitical archive and display is a fraught space very much a cynosure of the geopolitics of today. Alternative narratives are set into relief in the construct of the LTWA. Tourism, consumerism, commodification, and exoticisation are integral parts of the LTWA even as it stands testimony to the preservation of a culture unique to the world.

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