Lag Zo: Making on the Tibetan Plateau

A trilingual online exhibition about daily life of ethnic Tibetans in China

Close-up bronze work (2015-07-27) by Dawa DrolmaSmithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

Making is integral to the Tibetan story. From gilded thangkas to yak-hair shawls, the Tibetan Plateau is home to rich and diverse artisan traditions, including work by weavers, bronze artists, silversmiths, and potters.      

Tsetse is making butter in Sonak village, Lhamo Drolma, Tsehua, Puhua, 2016-08-06, From the collection of: Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
,
Pak mo and Sönam tso weaving yak hair, Wuqi, 2016-07-02, From the collection of: Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
Show lessRead more

However, making extends beyond traditional craftsmanship. Many farmers and herders, by virtue of their livelihoods, are also makers. These individuals often possess heritage knowledge and skills, such as making tents, string, or butter. 

Man working on a thangka painting (2016-06-15) by Dawa DrolmaSmithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

Tibetan crafts also play important roles in city life. As urbanization transforms rural life, crafts are increasingly attractive sources of employment for young Tibetan city-dwellers.    

Mani stone carving in Yushu (2016-06-27) by Dawa DrolmaSmithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

Lag Zo: Making on the Tibetan Plateau is a trilingual online exhibition—in English, Chinese, and Tibetan—produced by the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. The exhibition draws in part from the vast archive of digital materials acquired by the Center through the community-driven research of the Nomad Material Culture Documentation Project and the Artisan Documentation Project. These materials document contemporary Tibetan life during what is widely recognized as the largest rural-to-urban migration in human history. The collection captures traditional livelihoods, as well as the various ways individuals and communities are adapting to rapid transformation. The exhibition employs a place-based approach by grounding the traditions of making in five key cultural and geographic contexts.     

A tent in Zhün ha County, Qinghai Province (2016-05-10) by PuhuaSmithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

In the Tent


The tents where Tibetan nomads live are extremely significant places for Making on the Tibetan Plateau. This section of the exhibition highlights the traditions for making tents from yak hair; making clothing from animal skins and fabrics; food from plants and animals; games to pass the time inside the tent; and the tent’s interior spaces according to gender roles and the division of labor.  

Interior funiture arrangement in a tent in Zeku County, Lhamo Drolma, Tsehua, Puhua, 2016-08-04, From the collection of: Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
Show lessRead more

Namgyel Tséten and his friends playing Tibetan chess (2016-07-03) by WuqiSmithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

These vital aspects of daily life reflect not only the appreciation and respect that Tibetan nomads show for their land, their animals, and their culture, but also the significance of family ties, community relations, and cultural continuity on the Tibetan Plateau. To learn more visit Lag Zo: In the Tent

Horse-racing festival in Ngaba Qiang, Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (2016-08-06) by rGyalthar and Nathaniel SimsSmithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

On the Mountain

The Tibetan Plateau is widely known to the outside world as a place of mountains. The natural beauty of the Himalayas often overshadows the everyday culture of Tibetan nomads whose homes are in the mountains.  

Traditional Tibetan boots, Dawa Drolma, 2016-06-18, From the collection of: Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
,
Tibetan bootmaking, Dawa Drolma, 2017, From the collection of: Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
Show lessRead more

Picking a stone to be carved as a Mani stone in Yushu, Qinghai (2016-06-27) by Dawa DrolmaSmithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

This section of the exhibition highlights the traditions for making boots, gathering wood and dung, herding animals, singing, carving mani stones, and racing horses. These aspects of daily life in the mountains reflect a reality that is often unknown to the outside world. To learn more visit Lag Zo: On the Mountain

Bronze sculpture (2015-06) by Dawa DrolmaSmithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

In the Shrine

The practice of Tibetan Buddhism is central to nomadic life on the Tibetan Plateau—not only in the monasteries for which the region is justly famous, but also in the homes of individuals.  

Interview with silversmith Karma Choezin, Dawa Drolma, 2017, From the collection of: Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
,
Karma Choezin shows one of his pieces, Dawa Drolma, 2016-07-13, From the collection of: Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
Show lessRead more

Master Tibetan bronze artist Nima (2015-06) by Dawa DrolmaSmithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

This section of the exhibition highlights some of the most important traditions associated with religious life and shrines: painting thangkas, sculpting bronze figures, silversmithing, goldsmithing, and pottery-making. These aspects of Making on the Tibetan Plateau are both diverse and essential to traditional culture. To learn more visit Lag Zo: In the Shrine

Chengdu City (2018) by WendekarSmithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

In the City

In the past twenty years, previously borderless valleys and mountains on the Tibetan Plateau have been carved up into small plots of private land, which have made herding and subsistence farming increasingly difficult. As a result, many rural Tibetans are moving to cities both large (like Beijing and Chengdu) and small (like Yushu) in search of work.   

Charu Co-Working space in Chengdu City, Wendekar, 2018, From the collection of: Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
,
Charu Co-Working Space in Chengdu City, Wendekar, 2018, From the collection of: Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
Show lessRead more

 

Tibetan music club in Chengdu City (2018) by WendekarSmithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

This section of the exhibition highlights some of the ways in which nomadic Tibetans are becoming city dwellers—seeking to maintain and sustain their traditions in a globalized cash economy. These Tibetans continue to “make,” whether it be in a folk arts center, restaurant, café, or music club. To learn more visit Lag Zo: In the City

Yaks in Sonak village (2016-05-15) by PuhuaSmithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

On the Move

Human beings have always been on the move—often to seek new opportunities. The movements of individuals, families, and even entire communities impacts our identities, culture, and everyday lives.  

Chengdu City, Wendekar, 2018, From the collection of: Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
,
Lha mo dön drup family moving camp and setting up tents in Kluchu County, Gansu Province, Wuqi, 2016-07-02, From the collection of: Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
Show lessRead more

This section of the exhibition highlights two of the ways in which nomadic Tibetans are on the move: first with the logistics of moving camps according to different seasons; and then with the migration of Tibetans to Xining in western China, which is part of what some historians and demographers believe may be the largest migration in human history. To learn more visit Lag Zo: On the Move

Landscape in Dzongsar, Sichuan Province (2016-07-10) by Dawa DrolmaSmithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

Visit the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

and see the full exhibition Lag Zo: Making on the Tibetan Plateau

Credits: Story

Special thank you to the contributors Dawa Drolma, Lhamo Drolma, Nathaniel Sims, Puhua, rGyalthar, Tsehua, Wendekar and Wuqi.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
Asian Pacific American Cultures
Explore stories and artworks across Asian Pacific American Cultures
View theme
Google apps