An interview with Evonne Papadopoulos at MILAM Projects
Koskela: Can you tell us more about ‘House of Nomad’ and its purpose?
MILAM Projects: The ‘House of Nomad’ venture is a social enterprise, which stands as a multi faceted program that aims to re-create and support the Tibetan nomadic communities across the Tibetan plateau. Traditionally, in nomadic culture the tribal community passed on the know-how, but today this transmission of culture has been broken by modernity, current regulations and other situations. The House of Nomad’s purpose is to recreate what the tribe was holding, to continue this transmission of culture and knowledge, and create ways in which the nomads and community can positively adapt to current situations and changes in ways of life.
K: The faces in these portraits are so expressive. How did you and Simon approach the project and set up the portraits?
MILAM: In 2014, after I had spent two years living, studying and working on the Tibetan Plateau my friend Simon O’Dwyer joined me and the local House of Nomad team to help develop the business model and vision and document the nomadic communities and environmental initiatives. O’Dwyer’s work was to offer a current insight into the life of the Tibetan nomad, culture and their connection to the environment. Whilst covering over 3000kms in some of the most remote and high-altitude communities in the world we had the unique opportunity to meet a 100% purely nomadic people who had been practising a pastoral life for generations.
K: What are some anecdotes behind the images?
NOMAD PORTRAIT 25
MILAM: Nomad Portrait 25
There are many stories behind each portrait but in choosing we’d have to note ‘Nomad Portrait 25’ who is a nomad named ‘Ngar’ from Tsotri, one of the highest communities on the plateau at 4,600mtrs. He was married and aged around 30 years old. He and his wife had no children yet they owned about 300 sheep, 150 yaks, 50 horses, which in nomadic context is considered to be a quite a source wealth! It’s more usual that nomads own around 6o yaks and some sheep with few horses. Ngar expressed that even though he had a large number of animals he managed the entire herding himself and enjoyed living traditionally as a nomad.
Ngar’s portrait was taken outside one of the traditional black tents and it took 4 extras to hover on top of him for shade as he sat quietly on the grass and close to tent so that we could capture the beautiful black weave and textures of yak hair behind him. Ngar engaged in a cross-cultural discussion about life as a nomad and his view on culture. He expressed ‘A few years ago, after a lot of people moved to town, but I realized that the nomad life is the best lifestyle. I have a black tent.. which is the best tent for this area, as it does not harm the ground or nature. When you put the tent down the grass underneath can still breath and it does not hurt anyone.’ Ngar stated that as more people were moving to the main towns, the effects on culture is that ‘people loose their heritage and lands as they want the modern lifestyle in the cities. They do not realize what they are giving up.. A lot of people are saying they need to protect nomadic culture, so I hope it will get better. For the environment (it would be good) if local people can realize how to continue to protect the environment.’
K: How would someone go about visiting and/or assisting the nomadic people of the Tibetan plateau?
MILAM: It is no secret that not just for Tibetan nomadic culture, but all traditional cultures around the world are under threat, and for the sake of both traditional and developed societies we absolutely need to find a new balance between modernity and tradition. The photographic exhibition at Koskela is an authentic show that uses the images of the Tibetan nomads specific for which the House of Nomad project was created. We focused on portraiture as a position for positive and an intimate method of storytelling and collaboration for a global audience. As most nomads do not have access to family photos and have a very little if none annual income, the primary goal was to allow for a permanent exhibition to be given to the nomads themselves and for their own use. We still have a way to go to achieve this outcome so by helping to buy a fine art print from this special edition offered at Koskela will certainly help!
In regards to Tibetan nomadic culture, the plateau and the beautiful environment education and awareness is most important. In this race to modernisation people are losing faith in developing at the grassroots and even local people start to believe that it does not create value for the community, so for outsiders it’s best to seek services from local agencies that do work and offer support at that level. The House of Nomad project runs Eco-Tours that aim to develop the economy and protect the area whilst Tibetan nomads remain being nomads. Its aim is to make outsiders more aware of what Tibetan nomads and entrepreneurs are already doing to protect the environment and to see first hand their work and the difference they are making. The eco-tourist experience is that you become part of nomad life and that tourism should support a living nomadic culture, and allow for changes in the way that nomads want.