A Chinese Ambassador walks in one of Asia’s most prominent art fairs and shuts down an entire exhibition. Sorry, there’s no joke here, only yet another case of censorship conducted by China in a foreign country. Mr. Ma Mingqiang, the Beijing representative in Bangladesh, forced the esteemed Dhaka Art Summit into covering up Tibetan artworks in an angry e-mail sent to the fair after his visit on February 6th. The artwork, entitled Last Words, paid homage to 149 Tibetans who self-immolated themselves in protest of the Chinese oppression, through the letters written by five of them just before they burned themselves. As such, it angered the Chinese ambassador, who demanded the organisers either uninstall the works or face dire consequences. The photographs in question were censored for the rest of the fair’s duration, and the artists have since accused China of “bullying”.
Dhaka Art Summit – Censored by the Chinese Ambassador
Created by Ritu Sarin, an Indian filmmaker, and her husband Tenzing Sonam, a Tibetan in exile, Last Words is a project composed of five photographic documents of letters, which were a part of the duo’s earlier exhibition, entitled Burning Against the Dying of the Light and held in Delhi in December. During the last two days of Dhaka Art Summit, February 7th and 8th, the visitors could only see the frames covered with white paper. Sazzad Hossain, Dhaka Art Summit’s head of administration, told The Indian Express that the ambassador ”exploded” when he saw the images. The artists, who had left Dhaka for Delhi after the opening of the show, remained in touch with the exhibition curator and the fair organisers. “This is bullying. The Chinese are asking for the works to be removed in a foreign country. We have just taken five letters that are actually available online; it is not even an interpretation,” said Ritu Sarin.
According to Sarin and Sonam, this was not the first time that the Chinese had closed down a Tibetan exhibit in Bangladesh. They cited the Into Exile | Tibet 1949 – 2009 show organized by the Students for a Free Tibet that was shut down by the Bangladeshi government at the request of the Chinese embassy.
Last Words – The Suffering of Tibet
The art project of Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam shows the moving letters of at least 149 Tibetans who have sacrificed their lives in protest of China’s constant occupation of their land. At Dhaka Art Summit 2016, the artists have shown five photographs of these letters, accompanied by the translated text. After the works were censored, Bangladeshi activist Wasfia Nazreen posted photos of the installation while it was still on view and after it was covered in white, stating they will ”resist all (foreign) bullying on our land”. The artists also commented: “The fact that the Chinese government continues to dictate its terms on other nations with arrogance and impunity and tries to shut down every avenue of expression for us in exile to raise our voices on behalf of our beleaguered compatriots in Tibet, will only make us redouble our efforts,” they wrote. “We can take pride in the fact that the last words of the self-immolators still have the power to disturb and upset the CCP [China Communist Party]. This is why we need to keep their voices.”
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