San Bahadur Tamang

On the back of one of his paintings there is a small price tag with this artist description,


“San Bahadur Tamang was just three years old when, through intimidation and torture, he and his parents were forced out of their homes, off their farms, and in out of the country by the Bhutan monarchy. San turned to painting as a way to create beauty and brightness in the world, but he never had the opportunity for formal training as an artist.


He and his family wasted 18 years of their precious lives living in bamboo huts, without running water or electricity, feeling forgotten and abandoned by the rest of the world. Resettlement in the United States has rekindled their hopes for a better life.”


These words were written by Terry Kuhn, a man heavily involved with the Bhutanese refugees who have been resettled in Northeast, Ohio.


Most humans will never understand or even comprehend what it is like for the 50 plus millions of refugees and their forced plight. What does it mean to be hungry? What does it mean to have no running water or electricity? How do you realize your dreams when all that consumes you is survival? You survive on rice and water, if you work outside of the camp your salary is about 60 rupees per day which is equivalent to about 1 USD. 10 hour days doing intense manual labor for a dollar, hard for almost any human to fathom. San’s message is that of hope and the pursuit of a better life.


He says this about starting a better life in America …


“Every people should get a good job here. Here is good life for us, health insurance, everything, good home, heater, everything. But in camp there is no standard life. We stay in bamboo house. Winter season-foggy, and cold things all entering inside, we are very cold at that time. We would sometimes put paper on the wall, for cold air we would feel a little bit warm.”


Our lives are governed by opposites, how can we understand love and happiness if we have not experienced pain and suffering. The power of art can create profound life altering experiences for those individuals who engage with the art and stories of the artist. San, whose life experiences have been nothing less than extraordinary creates out of necessity, an expression of his innermost spirit that cannot be described with language.


San spoke to me about this inner-language and plans for his future as an artist …


“I love painting, all of my paintings come from my heart. When I was painting in Nepal, we got in more tension and worry, what can I eat. We don’t have money. The camps provided us some food and rice – five kilogram for fifteen days, which isn’t enough for the fifteen days. We have to wait for our income for the next fifteen days. But here, I am free. I do not have to worry about food. I can let my imagination run free. I hope one day that I will get a new job; if I work hard enough at making art, then one day hope to open an art gallery. But first I have to make many paintings, and need to learn some American painting education. I want to go to college for art. I can’t lose my refugee history. If we have knowledge for painting, they can’t take that away. Painting of our history becomes our property, and they can’t take that away.”

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