Art and humanitarianism collide in The Art of Zhen Shan Ren, an exhibition to be shown as part of an upcoming art fair. According to organisers, the fair, Art Nordic, features "5,000 square meters of art from 200 different artists" and will take place from May 9-11. at Øksnehallen in Copenhagen.
This particular exhibition was produced by a collection of artists who participate in the spiritual practice of Falun Gong, which is banned by the Chinese government, and have subsequently been persecuted for doing so.
Falun Gong, a Buddhist spiritual practice with Taoist influences, focuses on achieving spiritual enlightenment and morality through meditation and physical exercises like qigong. The school of practice was founded in 1992 by Li Hongzhi and had gained tens of millions of followers before the decade came to a close.
Tens of thousands killed
The Chinese Communist Party identified Falun Gong as a governmental threat due to the group’s large size, division from the state and inherent spirituality. Since the late '90s, Falun Gong followers in China have been imprisoned, tortured – both physically and psychologically – and forced into "re-education through labour camps" in an attempt to rid them of their spiritual beliefs. It’s thought that thousands (and perhaps tens of thousands) of imprisoned Falun Gong devotees have been killed in such camps. There has also been speculation that the Falun Gong prisoners have been involuntarily harvested for organs, which is a legal offence in China.
The Art of Zhen Shan Ren (which translates to ‘Truth Compassion Solidarity’) is comprised of 17 artists; all of the artists involved have experienced this persecution first-hand, including imprisonment and torture in some cases. The featured artists include Xiaoping Chen, Dr Xiqiang Dong, Yuan Li, Daci Shen, Weixing Wang and Dr. Kunlun Zhang, among others.
Realist oil paintings
The exhibition itself primarily consists of realist oil paintings – the medium and style was specifically chosen for its ability to clearly communicate the artists’ storytelling. The paintings, unsurprisingly, have rather heavy themes. For instance, one depicts a Chinese woman with her arms tied above her head to prison bars with heavy bricks chained around her neck, rendered in shocking realism. Another portrays a woman being beaten into a bloody pulp by male prison guards, and another shows a prisoner being tortured as guards hold a hot iron and burning cigarettes to his bare body.
Not all the paintings are that dark, though. Many of them express spiritual enlightenment, inner light, the cosmos and healing – all in visually stunning, vivid colours. It is clear that while the artists seek to remember their past and the persecutions, the main goal of the exhibition is to promote truth, compassion, and tolerance – as is the Falun Gong way.
The exhibition has previously been shown in nine countries, including Brazil, Latvia to Taiwan. This is its Scandinavian debut. The show is, as you might expect, banned in China.