Tenzing Dakpa (b. 1985)
A contemporary Indian artist and photographer, Tenzing Dakpa is best known for his photographic series The Hotel. Reflecting on his Tibetan diasporic identity, Dakpa explores themes of home, displacement, labour and resilience through photographs featuring seemingly mundane subjects, often with a humorous or ironic eye.
Dakpa was born and raised in Northeast India, growing up in Gangtok, Sikkim, where his parents had settled after leaving Tibet following Chinese annexation in the 1950s. The family’s home was the Lhasa Hotel, a lodge and restaurant in Gangtok that his parents owned and ran. In 2004, he went to study graphic design at the College of Art, New Delhi, graduating with a bachelor’s in 2009. It was during this period that he developed an interest in photography; in 2014 he received a fellowship from the Rhode Island School of Design, USA to pursue a master’s in photography, which he completed in 2016.
Having left home to pursue an artistic career, Dakpa is the only member of his family who does not live and work at the hotel. During a stay at his childhood home before leaving for the USA in 2014, Dakpa took a number of photographs centred on a new kitten that his parents had adopted. The images he made while following the cat around the five-storey building of the hotel gave him a renewed perspective of the place he was intimately familiar with. During his trips back home in the subsequent years, he undertook a more intentional project, photographing the interiors of the hotel as well as his parents and brother conducting their daily activities there. This culminated in the series The Hotel, which was published as a photobook by Steidl, Germany in 2020, after having won the Photobook Open Call Award at the Singapore International Photography Festival (2018). The digital black-and-white images are taken with a wide-angle lens and using the camera’s pop-up flash, in order to capture spontaneous, unstaged moments. Although the images are candid, the photographic language is self-reflexive, as the framing, the strong shadows cast by the flash, and the photographer’s own shadow sometimes visible in the composition highlight the qualities of the medium and the act of photography itself. The series serves as a reflection on the liminal nature of the hotel as a temporary stop for tourists but a permanent home for the Dakpa family; and the day-to-day labour and leisure of an immigrant working class family. The project also became a means for Dakpa to unravel his own relationship with the place, a home in which he grew up and a business in which he helped as a child, but now a place he participates in only as a visitor despite his familial connections. The series has been widely exhibited, including at the Kochi Muziris Biennale (2022–23).
Such concerns with the ideas of home and displacement, as well as his own Tibetan identity, have led Dakpa to engage with diasporic communities across India and the USA, particularly the Tibetan-Nepali community. The series Ari (2022) — named after the Tibetan word for ‘America’ — comprises images centred on these themes, taken in various parts of the USA and India between 2014 and 2020. Frequently bereft of human subjects, the photographs use inanimate objects and landscapes in a personal reflection on the dreams, memories and experiences of the Tibetan community as one that is continuously exiled from its homeland and has to anchor itself in different parts of the world. His series God’s Gift (2023) is set in his present home of Goa, and features photographs with banal non-human subjects. Through images of road construction, railway lines, fallen trees, and empty shops and warehouses, Dakpa reflects on the industrial exploitation of nature and the onset of urbanisation in the region, coupled with the outward migration of its youth in search of better opportunities. Dakpa has also worked as a cinematographer on a Konkani supernatural film, Aiz Mhaka Falya Tuka (2020).
Dakpa’s work has been featured in Photography and Tibet (2016) by Clare Harris, a seminal historical survey of photography in the Himalayas and Tibet.
At the time of writing, Dakpa lives and works in Goa.
Andrews, Blake. “Tenzing Dakpa, The Hotel.” Collectors Daily. June 10, 2021. https://collectordaily.com/tenzing-dakpa-the-hotel/.
Awade, Aalokshi. “Me Today, You Tomorrow.” Herald Goa, January 27, 2023. Accessed November 28, 2023. https://www.heraldgoa.in/Cafe/Me-Today-You-Tomorrow/200124.
Dakpa, Tenzing. “Selected Works.” Artist’s website. Accessed November 28, 2023. https://tenzingdakpa.com/Selected-Works.
Dakpa, Tenzing. “The Hotel.” Interview by Lodoe-Laura Haines-Wangda. LensCulture. Accessed November 27, 2023. https://www.lensculture.com/articles/tenzing-dakpa-the-hotel.
Indigo+Madder. “Tenzing Dakpa.” Accessed July 29, 2021. https://indigoplusmadder.com/tenzing-dakpa-1.
Steidl. “The Hotel.” Accessed July 29, 2021. https://steidl.de/Books/The-Hotel-2432363847.html.
Warner, Marigold. “Peckham 24: The Hotel by Tenzing Dakpa.” 1854 Photography. May 15, 2019. https://www.1854.photography/2019/05/the-hotel-tenzing-dakpa/