This performance was done at the top of a residential building in Montreal, for the entire city to symbolically watch.
It was a response to the growing number of self-immolations in Tibet caused by the Chinese government's strong cultural repression. There has been around 30 self-immolations so far since March 2011. That's more than 2 per month. Most of them are strikingly young (monks, nuns, but also lay people), with an entire future ahead of them.
At the time I made this video, the latest self-immolation was done by a 20 year old Tibetan girl. I reflected upon my own situation as a 20 year old girl at the other end of the globe. What kind of personal dreams did she willingly give up for this greater cause? What kind of career was she initially striving for? Was she in love? Had she hoped to be a mother one day? ...
What kind of conditions can make people believe that their only chance at freedom is to burn themselves alive?
How come it took only one self-immolation in Tunisia to trigger the wave of change that became the Arab Spring? How come 30 self-immolations in Tibet are still not worthy of the world's attention and intervention?
The idea of willingly setting fire to one's own body disturbed and fascinated me at the same time. There are many reasons that could explain such destructive behavior, but strangely enough the cases I have been looking at are not the result of suicidal tendencies or mental imbalance. As the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh explains:
"The monk who burns himself has lost neither courage nor hope; nor does he desire nonexistence. [...] He does not think that he is destroying himself; he believes in the good fruition of his act of self-sacrifice for the sake of others." (From Lotus in a Sea of Fire)
Moreover, in his article "Self-immolation: a clutch at freedom, and the end of history," Clive Bloom writes:
"The self-murder of those who die for a cause is always brought about by a supreme decision to act now for future times. The suicide is no longer a victim of historical circumstances, but instead rises above those circumstances in order to command them for one final time. "
Those words have given me a lot to think about.
This performance is, on the one hand, a small and personal attempt at understanding the act of self-immolation itself, the mindset it implies, the courage it requires, the sacrifice it represents, and the desperate hope it also carries.
On the other hand, it is my own, small contribution to the fight for freedom in Tibet, something I feel very concerned about. I also meant it as a supporting gesture, the closest to "self-immolation" I could get in my (entirely different) situation, without actually dying.
This video shows that I first make "contact" with fire, lighting up matches and watching them burn. I then pour gasoline over my body and, with an unlit match in my hand, meditate on the questions above, on the imminent possibility of catching fire, on my own fear of death, and on the bravery or insanity of those who have embraced death this way.
For those interested, guardian.co.uk/world/tibet has many articles about the situation in Tibet.
In memory of :
Phuntsog (20 y-o)
Tsewang Norbu (29 y-o)
Lobsang Kalsang (18 y-o)
Lobsang Konchok (18 y-o)
Kalsang Wangchuk (18 y-o)
Choepel (18 y-o)
Khayang (20 y-o)
Norbu Dathul (19 y-o)
Tenzin Wangmo (20 y-o)
Palden Choetso (35 y-o)
Pawo Ten-Nyi (20 y-o)
Pawo Tsultrim (20 y-o)
Sonam Wangyal Rimpoche
Rigzin Dorjee (19 y-o)
Sonam Rapyang (~30 y-o)
Tenzin Choedon (18 y-o)
Lobsang Gyatso (19 y-o)
Tamchoe Sangpo (40 y-o)
Nangdrol (18 y-o)
Tsering Kyi (20 y-o)
Rinchen (32 y-o)
Gebey (18 y-o)
Dorjee (18 y-o)
Jamyang Palden (34 y-o)
Lobsang Tsultrim (20 y-o)
Sonyam Dhagyal (44 y-o)
Jamphel Yeshi (27 y-o)
Sherab (20 y-o)
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