- About the Photographer
Serena Chopra is a photographer and writer born in Secunderabad, India, and based in Delhi. The first publication of her work was Bhutan: A Certain Modernity (2006). The project took over twelve years to complete and resulted in exhibitions in New York, Bhutan, across India, and elsewhere. Bhutan was also the focus of her books The Ancients: Bhutan Diaries (2015) and Bhutan Echoes (2016). In the foreword to The Ancients: Bhutan Diaries, the Queen Mother of Bhutan, Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, wrote:
Having endured the harshest conditions traversing through remotest regions of the country to meet and interact with our people, she has written with deep insight and love of the places and people she has met and developed a great affection for them. From Laya in the North to Merak Sakten in the East, from Haa in the West to Samchi in the South, Serena has left a trail of friendship and goodwill.
In 2016, Chopra published Along the Ganga, a collection of fifty-two photographs taken on a journey along the river.
In 2017, the Partition Museum, located in the Town Hall in Amritsar, India, invited her to exhibit her portraits of survivors of the 1947 crisis that separated India and Pakistan. The tragedy displaced as many as 15 million people and an estimated 200,000 to 1 million were killed in ethnic and religious violence. The Partition Museum is the first devoted to a horror that for decades was seldom discussed in public.
More recently, inspired by a conversation with the Dalai Lama—who suggested she use her photography to help Tibetan exiles—she began photographing the residents of Majnu Ka Tilla, a Tibetan community in Delhi where thousands of Tibetan exiles have lived since 1950. With a Tibetan friend, Norsang, she started making daily visits to Majnu Ka Tilla. She spoke with the residents, arranged photo shoots, and created a diary in which the residents could write their stories in their own language. "I wanted to get to know the real Tibetan, the person, his or her feelings, what his or her life was like in reality. Perhaps I would gain insight into what freedom meant to them," she [End Page 183] says. Each entry includes a portrait photograph and the person's words in two languages. Chopra says of her work in the community:
Majnu Ka Tilla is a no-man's land where though the Tibetans struggle to preserve their culture, religion and language, they treat it as temporary. They do not seek Indian citizenship or to belong because that would mean accepting defeat. The refrain is "Free Tibet" and their dream is to return to a free Tibet one day. They wonder what will happen when their parents' generation has passed away and the new generation has no roots in Tibet or elsewhere.
Serena Chopra is represented by sepiaEYE (sepiaeye.com) in New York; her personal site is serenachopra.in. [End Page 184]