Tibetan Artists Silenced at Dhaka Art Summit

By Ahmad Ibrahim

On 7 February 2016, Indian artists Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam had their photographs and art installations removed from the Dhaka Art Summit taking place in Shilpakala Academy.

Huffington Post (India),  Indian Express, and the artist Tenzing Sonam’s twitter feed reported that the removal happened after the Chinese ambassador to Dhaka saw the work and demanded it be removed.

Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam produced a piece called “Last Words”, which consists of five facsmilies of five last messages written by the self-immolators in Tibet, along with their English translations. Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam depicted Tibetan monks in the act of self-immolation as a way of political and religious protest against the occupation of Tibet by the Chinese government.

Photo courtesy: Wasifa Nazreen
The works before being covered. Photo: Wasfia Nazreen

At the end of the 6th of February, both artists were still depicted on the walls of the Art Summit. On the 7th, what greeted the visitors and patrons were blank stretches of white wall with white frames. It was as if the works had never existed.

This is not the first time the Chinese government has tried to shut down political art work that aims to show the real face of Chinese occupation of Tibet. More reprehensible, however, is that it happened inside the walls of an institution that was proclaiming itself to be a haven of bold art and artistic expression.

That, if the media reports are true, the Chinese government could go to such lengths to silence an exhibition happening thousands of miles away shows the depth of their oppression over an entire country.

Since February 2009, 142 Tibetans have self-immolated in their homeland, 120 dying from their actions.


Indian Express interviewed the duo in India:

“We were told by the curator (Diana Campbell Betancourt) that [Chinese Ambassador] exploded as soon as he saw it and asked the works to be removed immediately or face consequences,” said Sonam.

While the filmmaker duo flew back from Dhaka to Delhi on Sunday morning, they said they were in constant touch with the curator as well as the Samdani Art Foundation, headed by Nadia and Rajeeb Samdani, which organises the summit that is in its third edition.

“We understand their position. They are trying to frame an appropriate response. With an event of such magnitude, one can’t really take any chance.”

FULL ARTICLE (Indian press):
Dhaka art summit: Tibetan exhibit covered up after China ‘protest’ 

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