A fortress-like monastery holds its own against the backdrop of sharp-edged, sooty mountains that touch a clear blue sky. A young, Tibetan nun, her locket displaying the well-known face of the Dalai Lama, smiles disarmingly at the viewer. A Tibetan boy, surrounded by his playmates, playfully points a toy gun at the camera. Figures of maroon-robed monks cut arabesques of interaction, in a spacious courtyard. The smooth bronze face of a deity, profiled against a richly decorated monastery wall, contrasts with a close-up of two, wrinkled, old women, who seem ambivalent about the camera breaching their privacy.
Kiran Ambwani’s photographs, on display at the Maison de la Culture Plateau-Mont-Royal, till May 10, land us in the midst of Tibetan communities living in exile in Ladakh, North India and Bylakuppe, South India. A fitting start to the 14th edition of Festival Accès Asie, which opened on May 1 and runs till June 14, at various Montreal venues.
The Festival offers dance, film, food, multimedia productions, visual art and artistic dialogue, with a distinctly Asian accent. Asian Canadians, who make up 10 per cent of Montreal’s population, have come here from countries as distant as Japan and Iran, and everything in-between. The Asian Heritage Month Festival is an annual event held in a dozen Canadian cities, during the month of May.
The Montreal Festival focus for 2009 is Tibet. (People all around the world are taking stock of 50 years of Chinese occupation of this country this year.) The well-attended Festival opening also featured robust Tibetan songs from Kalsang Dolma, a singer-activist who is part of a community of 130 Tibetans in Montreal. And a scholarly presentation on mandalas, the geometric, Tibetan Buddhist motifs, that were popularised in the West by Karl Jung and the New Age movement.
Nuns in prison in Tibet composed the first song Dolma sang. The second was inspired by a man who looks after Tibetan orphans in India, while the third wished friend’s good luck. Dolma was the spokesperson for a poignant documentary film “What Remains of Us.” The role, which took her to Tibet several times, helped her carry a message of hope from the Dalai Lama to the Tibetan people.
On May 8, there is a free screening of “The Forbidden Team,” a documentary film about a little-known Tibetan passion – football. It tells the story of a controversial match between Tibet and Greenland, which took place in 2001, despite strong resistance from the Chinese government.
The Festival also features an avant-garde, Japanese-themed production “ The Haunted Womb Tour”, which won the Tangente Prize at the 2007 Montréal Fringe Festival. A blend of pop, punk, dance, theatre, music, and Buddhist ritual, it features dancer Tomomi Morimoto and actress-singer Maya Kuroki, with music by Patrick Graham, a multi-percussionist. All Montrealers. May 14-16 at Tangente Theatre.
Another offering is Viva Confusion, a multi-media theatre event that explores immigrant angst. It features celebrated Indian stage and screen actor, Dr. Mohan Agashe, who is also a psychiatrist, and local actors, dancers and musicians from diverse ethnic backgrounds. Directed by Stephen Pietrantoni, a multi-faceted theatre director based in Montreal, scripted by Hunt Hoe, an award-winning Chinese-Canadian filmmaker with a penchant for provocative themes, it will take place on June 6.
And Taarof, Images of Iranian Hospitality, is a black and white photo exhibition by globe-trotting, Dutch photographer Cornelis Van Voorthuizen, shot in Tehran, Isfahan Shiraz and Yazid.
Go to the Accès Asie site for details. http://www.accesasie.com/
Photo by Kiran Ambwani.