Oxford's Pitt Rivers Museum sheds light on a bold photographic show highlighting life of Tibetans today

It is among the most enigmatic and evocative places on earth. But high and distant Tibet – the land at the roof of the world – is brought to life in a dramatic exhibition at The Pitt Rivers Museum.

Performing Tibetan Identities is an installation of photographic portraits by young Tibetan photographer, Nyema Droma on show at the anthropological museum at the back of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

Taking inspiration from the collection, Nyema has created portraits of other young Tibetans that celebrate their experiences and challenge stereotypes.

Her pictures document the many things they share as global citizens and consumers of popular culture, as well as the particularities of their Tibetan heritage.

By producing double portraits of each person, in daily wear and ‘traditional’ clothing, Nyema alludes to the fluidity of identity formation and how it may be expressed in dress and objects, revealing the range of options for self-fashioning, contemporary Tibetans.

The exhibit includes an exhibition at the heart of the museum as well as film and digital displays which explore the interplay between past and present, diaspora and homeland, the local and the global in Tibetan identity formation.

Digital displays are used for the first time in the main galleries of the museum to make examples of the material Nyema studied in the collections accessible to visitors. Large scale photographic portraits are suspended across the galleries in the style of a contemporary art installation but also emulating the prayer flags hung at Buddhist sites across the Tibetan-speaking world.

By inserting Nyema’s pictures amongst the thousands of objects from all over the world that have filled the Museum since the late nineteenth century, this installation acts as a commentary on a historic ethnographic museum.

It also acknowledges the dynamism and modernity of Tibetan culture and injects the presence, creativity and agency of the current generation of Tibetans, wherever they reside.

Nyema Droma is a young Tibetan photographer and curator from the capital, Lhasa.

She developed her photographic practice at the London College of Fashion and has worked both in the UK and China. In 2018 she received funding from the museum’s Origins and Futures Fund to become visiting artist at the Pitt Rivers.

The exhibition is the result of a collaboration between Nyema Droma and Prof Clare Harris, Curator for Asian Collections at the Pitt Rivers and Professor of Visual Anthropology in the University’s School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography.

Prof Harris is a leading expert on Tibetan art and material culture who pioneered the study of contemporary Tibetan art and the critical analysis of the representation of Tibet in museums worldwide.

Running in conjunction is Tibetan Objects in Transition, a case display curated by Thupten Kelsang – the first Tibetan to study for a Masters degree in Visual, Material and Museum Anthropology at the University of Oxford in 2018.

Drawing from the museum’s collections, and items loaned by members of the Tibetan community, the display inserts the presence of contemporary Tibetan voices, narratives and perspectives into an historic space.

  • Performing Tibetan Identities
  • Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford
  • Until May 30 2019
  • prm.ox.ac.uk