In August, Tashi Kyi, a 55-year-old woman in north-eastern Tibet, set herself on fire. Hers was a protest against the forcible takeover of a house by security personnel who had marched into her village that night. This is just one of 149 acts of self-immolation since 2009 that film-makers Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam have memorialized in their exhibition Burning Against The Dying Of The Light, whose title draws from a famous Dylan Thomas poem. The husband-wife are also the festival directors of the Dharamsala International Film Festival, which they conceptualized and started in 2012.

Their exhibition, which opened at the Khoj International Artists’ Association in New Delhi on 10 December, combines videos, images and letters from protesters in an eight-part installation that forms the centrepiece of the show. There are also three short videos that depict Tibetans being taken away by authorities, and having heated political debates with each other. The duo’s documentaries are also being screened.

“Is there hope in this? Is it hopelessness? Or is it some weird combination of the two? Ours is an inquiry into the issue," Sarin says. In The Wheel Of Light And Darkness, a stripped down, skeletal, metallic prayer wheel has yellow sheets of Buddhist texts that resemble wood shavings placed inside it, as if in a cage. Tablets that screen various acts of self-immolation, discreetly and illegally filmed through cellphones, encircle the wheel. “If you send even such a photo out, you get sentenced to years of prison immediately. At every level, things are shut down for the Tibetans. They can’t peacefully protest, they can’t go to the government, their language rights have been taken away," Sonam, born to Tibetan refugee parents in India, says.

Nets In the Sky, Traps On The Ground is a series of broken- down phrases—excerpts from Chinese documents—that are projected digitally on a wall behind the Wheel. “Ensure total stability," reads one phrase.

A 7-minute, single-channel video called Funeral #2 follows the self-immolation of 27-year-old Jamphel Yeshi during a demonstration in New Delhi in March 2012. This video is particularly haunting, for the film starts by showing Yeshi in a crowd, protesting peacefully against the visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao. Minutes later, he is on fire. The rest of the footage shows his funeral procession in Dharamsala, as hundreds of people look on.

Memorial is a wall filled by 149 tiny portrait pictures of every self-immolator, organized chronologically in tight rows. In the case of protesters whose photos are missing, Sarin and Sonam have left blank picture frames, adding to the discomfort that stirs the viewer into understanding the theatricality of, as well as the inherent Buddhist spirituality behind, the self-immolations.

“Our main challenge was to put in a larger context images that are themselves so graphic and powerful," Sonam says.

Burning Against The Dying Of The Light is on till 31 December, 11am-7pm, at Khoj International Artists’ Association, S-17, Khirkee Extension, New Delhi.

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