Bodhi Unbound - help fund my PhD
Hi, my name’s Damcho
Damcho is the name I received when I took ordination as a Tibetan Buddhist nun, aged 29. Before then, I had been an established practising artist.
As a nun, I had the daily ritual of wearing monastic robes and did so for ten years. My spiritual practice had two main focusses: cultivating compassion and training the mind through meditation practices.
I lived a celibate life, devoting myself to serving Tibetan masters and the communities that gathered around them; caring for the elderly and those close to death; researching, recording and practising Buddhist rituals from the Nyingma tradition whilst receiving teachings in the approach of Rimé .
This path was incredibly enriching and inspiring for me, though over time I developed an increasing disconnection from my physical form which I draped with layers of maroon cloth and mainly related to as a means for service.
In 2011, while on retreat, I had a sense of my body and mind re-connecting and recognised - after some reflection – that it was, quite naturally, the time for me to cease being a nun. Read more in a Huffington Post interview here .
More recently my curiosity as an artist, has led me to discover and explore a more sensual ritual of dressing: that of wearing latex!
Now I have the opportunity to translate these life experiences into a unique contribution that I believe will intrigue and - I hope - bring some benefit. The world’s number one postgraduate art and design university, the Royal College of Art in London have offered me a place as an M.Phil/PhD candidate to explore these two contrasting rituals. This is an exceptional opportunity and your contribution can help ensure this chance becomes a reality.
Why 'Bodhi Unbound'?
'Bodhi' is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘to awaken’ and in the Buddhist context, it is frequently used to allude to the potential that we all have to awaken the wisdom that is inherent in us. This potential is said to be present in every being with consciousness, though - for the majority of us - it is obscured like a piece of gold bound in a lump of coal.
I have chosen the word 'Unbound' as it expresses both the release I found when I stopped wearing robes, as well as being suggestive of the release from being ‘bound’ in the context BDSM practices (which many people may think of due to preconceptions of latex wearing.) Ultimately, 'Unbound' expresses an aspiration for the mind and heart to be freed of binding habits and negative emotions.
Bodhi Unbound relates to my research practice as it will commence through recording, analysing and interpreting the tangible experience of being bound and then unbound from the confinements of restrictive ritual clothing: both monastic robes and latex.
Whilst wishing to reflect profoundly on the juxtaposition of the ways in which freedom and contraint play out in our own lives, my aspiration for this research is threefold:
- Identify and probe our preconceptions and practices of some forms of ritual to see what new understanding of ritual may arise.
- To deepen and integrate my understanding of the potential of the mind and heart when ‘unbound’.
- Equip me to inspire, nurture and communicate with many, many others so that they in turn can support, inspire and nurture others.
In order for this to happen, I need a lot of support - and your contribution can make a difference!
Though I have lived and worked in the UK for a number of years, my Visa doesn't yet have ‘indefinite leave to remain’ stamped on it. As an Australian national, this means I need to pay international student fees. At an acclaimed institution such as the RCA, such fees are considerable!
I have saved some funds and can cover my enrolment fee of £2,000 plus basic living costs in London for the first 4-6 months. Going forward - if needed - I will carry on with part time work in order to cover monthly subsistence.
I will also continue to actively apply to charitable organisations and philanthropists for ongoing funding.
I am asking for your help to ensure that I can cover this:
- Annual Student Fee £28,400
- Research-associated costs, including books, equipment, art materials, conference attendance and travel £5,000
Total per annum £33,400
A Tibetan Buddhist master, whom I greatly respect, has offered me the first £500 towards my fundraising goal, insisting that it's very important for me to start and to finish this PhD.
A community based organisation in London have offered me an Education Development Grant of £300.
To these auspicious first offerings, I am asking you to join by contributing what you can; be it a few pounds, a major donation or support in kind.
Every contribution will be acknowledged in my thesis. Please donate today and share Bodhi Unbound with everyone you know.
(If you want to know more about me, keep on scrolling below this photo)
[Me studying, though I don't usually do so in latex]
About me as a student and artist:
Aged 17, I received an award from the Governor of South Australia for my academic merits in my final year at secondary school when I achieved 98% and was awarded one of three Dux for my year. I went on to study in three important art schools in Australia - all of which I chose due to the reputation of their lecturers. I graduated from the Victorian College of the Arts with First Class Honours and was awarded the highest accolade for my programme: the Lavazza, George Gallery Scholarship which included a studio residency for a year. I exhibited throughout the 90’s in Australia including at the Melbourne International Arts Festival in 1999.
My art always had a performance and installation element to it and I very much used my practice as a vehicle to probe the territories of human experience in relation to spirituality and concepts. For part of the time during this exploration, I was enrolled at the Catholic Theological College , part of the University of Divinity to study Christian Mysticism. At the same time, I started to study Tibetan Buddhism. During this concurrent exploration, I had the first inkling that I wanted to be a nun, though it was to be six years before that became a reality.
Over this period of time, I became convinced that my creative expression was important not because of its form, but rather because of its intent. With this conviction, I erased, destroyed or gave away all of my art works (and other possessions) and embarked on the path of a Tibetan Buddhist nun.
About me in robes:
I was ordained in early 2001 by Trulshik Rinpoche in Kathmandu, Nepal, though was based mainly at a major Buddhist community in France. I trained and worked voluntarily in countries of the Himalayas, Europe and South East Asia for the following ten years. I even had the fortune of being the attendant to the Dalai Lama over some days during one of his official visits to France.
Whilst in India on retreat in 2011, I had an insight that one of the forms I stopped relating to so much when I became a nun – my body – was an integral part of being on the spiritual path. I saw that it too is an arena for exploration and understanding, but one which I had greatly lost touch with.
About me in latex:
Fast forward 5 years, and - no longer a nun - I meet a couture designer who creates beautiful pieces of latex clothing. She obtained a doctorate at the Royal College of Art 30 years ago and it is where she launched her career of making latex clothes. She and I made a natural connection which disarmed me as I explored her clothing collection and she assisted me in trying on a few pieces.
Immediately, I recognised that wearing latex is a ritual. It was at once similar to my experience of wearing Buddhist robes, and at the same time could not be further from the protocol or appearance of donning monastic clothing. Whether monastic robes or putting on latex, what has become apparent to me is that both demand commitment of the wearer!
Once the latex is on, the body has a second skin, it is like a cocoon. It is so close to your skin that you feel naked, yet is also like a protective armour. Being touched while in latex, sense awareness is heightened. The experience is sensual, and awareness of the boundary between the inner and outer sensations of the body are amplified. And once the latex is removed, there is a deeply felt release - a sense of being unbound.
About the Royal College of Art :
For the last three years, the Royal College of Art has been recognized as the world’s number one art and design postgraduate university. Well known alumni/ae from the RCA include Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, David Hockney, Tracey Emin, Paul Smith, Ridley Scott, James Dyson and Betty Churcher (director of the National Gallery of Australia 1990–1997).
To be able to enter into this eminent institution is an incredible opportunity, a great honour, and one which I feel provides me with the perfect vehicle, support and inspiration to deepen, refine, translate and communicate my past 25 years of research into something that I hope ‑ through thesis and practice - expresses an unboundedness of the body, heart and mind. Your contribution could be the difference between me entering this world-renowned institution or not.
About how you can help:
Every contribution will make an impact. So even if you imagine that I have shared this with you over a cup of coffee, then if you were to offer to pay a few pounds for that imaginary coffee, I will certainly recall you as an actual coffee sustains me through hours of research.
If you can offer more - or are tempted by any of my reward incentives - I will be so grateful for your generosity.
I also welcome donations in kind from organisations and individuals who may be able to help in other ways, for example with materials and equipment, studio or gallery space, or even accommodation!
Regardless of what you can give, spreading the word will make a major difference. Please share with all your friends and ask them to share!
With unbounded gratitude,
I woke up one morning, and before my eyes were even open, my mind was intent on having this photo taken.
It's not meant to be provocative - though I recognise that according to the viewers perspective it could signify, or evoke any number of things.
The nun image is me in 2009. It has been printed at 1:1 scale and it is held so that it masks the rubber clad body beneath. The latex completely conceals the identity of the body and the photo prop serves to mask the identity of the one holding it before their face. So much is concealed and so it also allows for so much to be projected upon, yet you who are reading these words will probably know or assume that it is the one person.
For me, who experienced both the monastic identity in 2009 and then - in March 2017 - was hidden behind the photo and shrouded in latex for a photo shoot, this image symbolises a recognition that these are simply two masks. Furthermore, coupling these masks together in this 2-dimensional representation of my form - where the face and body become dependant on each other to complete the image, I’m hoping to express the interdependent existence between by body and mind. And though there seems to have been an extreme shift from robed monastic to lady in latex, the transition and contemplative experience that has bridged these worlds has been a very intimate one - as intimate as the closeness in this photo between the robe draped shoulders and the torso secured by rubber.
This intimate but radical transition that I went through was accompanied, or possibly even lead by something I'll call ‘body intelligence’. Rumi expresses this in his writing titled just that:
“…You and your intelligence
are like the beauty and the precision
of an astrolabe.
“Together you calculate how near
existence is to the sun!
“Your intelligence is marvellously intimate.
It’s not in front of you or behind,
or to the left or the right…”
(I will post the full poem on the Body Unbound Facebook page if you wish to read it)
I want to say a sincere thank you to everyone for their encouragement, support and generosity. Slowly but surely I am getting towards reaching my target: I am just over a quarter of the way there! If you haven’t done so already, please like and share my page and tell your friends. And incase you missed it, here is a interview that I did with Michaela Haas PhD about Body Unbound that was published on Huffington Post and Medium.com just a few days ago:
I hope through reading this, people will gain more curiosity and understanding regarding Bodhi Unbound!
Thank you for your encouragement, interest and support. Its been 10 days since my campaign Bodhi Unbound launched, and I'm nearly a quarter of the way to reaching my ambitious target.
At the start of April I will have another opportunity to promote my cause at an event, so I'm hoping that another injection of funds will come then. Meanwhile, I continue to rely on the communities of friends and families around me to help spread the word.
If you have not done so already, please share with others whom you think may be able to help out by either raising awareness or making an offering.
Some other news was just announced in the past week: The Royal College of Art, has been recognised for the third year running as the world's number one postgraduate art and design university by the QS World University rankings! https://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/university-subject-rankings/2017/art-design
I've posted a new photo and post on the Bodhi Unbound facebook page, so do have a look if you're at all curious. https://www.facebook.com/BodhiUnbound/
It relates to this photo.
I'm hoping to get a short video message on here soon. So stay tuned.
With unbounded gratitude,
The responses and interest shown by family, friends and strangers has been so, so heartening and indeed very encouraging.
I was at a community event yesterday to promote my cause (where I gave out M&M's with the words 'LoveMe LoveLatex' and Fund My PhD' printed on them) and I must have spoken to around 150 hundred folk.
People had a number of interesting interpretations and reactions, some of which were rather profound and philosophical. I also received £300 in donations, made some new friends and will have some introductions that may lead to further support.
When I started this campaign, I was just looking for monetary support, but I can already see that the rewards will be so much more than just that.
In terms of funds, I have already raised over 20% and there are a number of people have pledged to donate that will do so in the next couple of weeks.
To those of you that have offered something, please know how incredibly, profoundly grateful I am. Your gestures mean so much more that the money you have given. And to all who have shown interest and encouraged me, please know that also counts for so much.
Please, everyone, continue to share with your friends and keep engaging with me. Stay tuned for further developments.
With unbounded gratitude,