This paper presents a case study of contemporary Tibetan art as cultural practice, narrative device and advocacy tool within the context of Tibetan diasporic migration to Australia. It focuses on selected works of artist Karma Phuntsok to explore the role of Tibetan Buddhism as an interpretive framework for coming to terms with cultural upheaval and loss. Phuntsok’s earliest memories are of the 1959 Lhasa uprising against the Chinese occupation and subsequent exodus of around one hundred thousand Tibetans who fled on foot over the Himalayas to seek refuge in Nepal, India and Bhutan. Raised in the exile boarding school system and trained as a traditional thangka painter, Phuntsok is part of a generation of Tibetan exiles whose experiences form a national narrative of ongoing struggle couched in the ethico-politics of cultural survival. Within this context, traditional art forms have been actively cultivated as a means of preserving ‘authentic’ Tibetan culture, religion, language and identity in exile. Yet, rather than remaining static, contemporary Tibetan art has also evolved in recent decades to become a vehicle for artists to offer critical depictions of their personal experiences, states of mind, and encounters with globalisation and modernity. As the case study will show, some such works diverge markedly from prescriptive forms and conventional interpretations, having the capacity to prompt recalibration of the viewer’s interpretation of historic events. However, this paper is not only an attempt to understand how these processes of coming to terms with the past are mediated through memory and paint on canvas. It also explores how storied objects are utilised as symbols to demonstrate the enduring connections between homeland and exile, reflect positive transformations in Tibetan society, and articulate a sense of hope for the future.


About the Presenter

Jennifer Rowe is a PhD candidate in Anthropology in the School of Social Science at the University of Queensland. With a background in International Relations as well as Cultural Heritage and Museum Studies, her doctoral research is an interdisciplinary exploration of the transnational mobilities and cultural activities of a small Tibetan community in Australia. She is particularly interested in the articulation and performance of minority cultural identities as forms of resistance, advocacy and cultural diplomacy




About Anthropology Working Papers

The Working Papers in Anthropology seminar series provides a forum for dissemination of anthropological research and ideas among UQ scholars and invited researchers. All students are invited to attend the series and postgraduate students, from honours upwards, are invited to present their research. The aim is to provide opportunities for students, staff and those from outside UQ, to present and discuss their work in an informal environment.


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