Follow-up with the Rubin Museum

To our readers,

Following our “Open Letter to Rubin Museum,” the Rubin Museum staff/leadership reached out to us and we had a long conversation about the content of our post and what measures could be taken to address the trauma inflicted on Tibetans in the diaspora and the harm caused by cultural appropriation.

There was an understanding reached that the use of a namsa as a cultural prop for the photo booth was not intentional or planned by the Museum. The Rubin Museum also extended a formal apology to those who were hurt by this event. When addressing the photo booth incident, we opened up a broader discussion of Tibetan representation and the complexity of the narratives about us (much of the time, not always shaped by us).

Tibetan Americans in a very white cultural and political environment face unique challenges dealing with orientalism and the fetishization of our culture and religious traditions. There is also the stripping of our identity when we are forced into a monolithic “Asian” group with which not all of us necessarily or easily identify. We often struggle to define ourselves as Tibetans in this contemporary landscape– especially those of us who grew up with dual identities. Therefore, it is essential that we remain critical in times when the story of us is not being told by us.

Thank you to the Rubin Museum for hearing our criticism and concerns. We acknowledge your efforts in creating the space that you have for Tibetans to gather and create, and the work that you have been doing with the Himalayan community in the New York area. We also, however, recognize that there is room for improvement, especially as a relatively new, young institution. We appreciate that you have taken the time to listen to us on this matter and expressed regret over the incident in question.

Following our private discussion, the Rubin Museum has affirmed that it will host an ongoing public forum where Tibetans can come together to discuss important, complex issues such as cultural appropriation and our representation in institutions like the Rubin and elsewhere.

There has been an increasing amount of political spaces opening up for Tibetans to discuss issues such as representation,identity, race, gender, religion, etc. And every one of these spaces, including the Rubin’s community forum, is a testament to our collective determination to (re)claim our identities as our own. We thank the Rubin Museum for your commitment to helping create more spaces to engage in this critical dialogue, and encourage everyone in our community to continue being critical and loud and to keep taking up space– especially in places from which we have historically been excluded.

*Note: The Rubin Museum has said it will inform us of their next community meeting. We will share this information when it is made available to us, otherwise, please check their website/social media.

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