Clothing the 14th Dalai Lama: Endangered Tibetan Material Knowledge in Exile

By Emma Martin, Ayesha Fuentes, and Tashi Tsering Josayma | 10 November 2020

Venerable Phuntsok Tsering, is the Nabza’ Chenmo, or the Dalai Lama’s personal tailor. Since 1959, he has been responsible for (re)constructing the tailoring requirements of the Dalai Lama in exile. He rebuilt the ceremonial wardrobe left behind in Tibet and developed new garments for use in the unfamiliar environmental and cultural conditions of India. Despite this singularity his practice has never been documented. Collaborating with The Tibet Museum, an exile institution in Dharamshala, India, this pilot project tests the proposed methodologies for a new digital archive of Tibetan material knowledge in exile. Focusing on the endangered knowledge of Ven. Phuntsok Tsering the project combines filmed observations of garment-production, semi-structured interviews and discussions using pre-1959 Dalai Lama provenanced garments in UK museum collections to document the material practices and knowledge systems associated with tailoring for the highest echelons of Tibetan society.

 

The primary goal of this project is to document the tailoring skills needed to clothe the Dalai Lama and the specific types of textiles reserved for His Holiness. Additionally, it records the lexicon of Tibetan materiality through Tibetan ontologies rather than through the technical language and standards produced by non-Tibetan institutions and researchers. Documenting the language of this materiality is critical, as practitioners are largely unaware of the connoisseurial and technical language that informed earlier generations of tailors in Tibet.

A secondary goal is to raise awareness of and build advocacy for the importance of digitally documenting Tibetan material knowledge and its relevance to Tibetan exile culture. A member of staff from the Tibet Museum will join the project team and receive mentoring and training in material knowledge preservation and participate in the fieldwork.

The project also aims to have an impact on Tibet collections in UK museums. It plans to augment the current documentation of Tibetan material culture in UK museums by reconnecting it to Tibetan material knowledge. Thus, privileging Tibetan systems of knowledge over European notions of classification and description.

 


PI:

Dr Emma Martin, Lecturer in Museology, University of Manchester; Lead Curator, Globalisation, National Museums Liverpool

Collaborators:
Ayesha Fuentes, Stride Lecturer in Arts Conservation, Department of Arts, Northumbria University
Tashi Tsering Josayma, Director, Amnye Machen Institute, Tibetan Centre for Advanced Studies

Location of Research:
India—McLeod Ganj / Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh

 

Top Banner Image: The ‘Tenzin Ngolen’ sleeveless shirt originally designed by the Nabza’ Chenmo in 1959 for the fourteenth Dalai Lama (Photo: Tibet Museum)