The three tiers of golden, shiny chains looped in a large oval from the neck to the abdomen of Julie Gunnell looked like elaborate, modern jewelry but were the chains of office of the Lord Mayor of York.
As she viewed the paintings of The Art of Zhen Shan Ren, sunshine –streaming through six enormous, unstained but leaded, windows on both sides of York’s Guildhall – glinted over the chains’ links.
The chain represents the dignity of power given by a higher authority. This, with its delicate craftsmanship, paralleled the drama of light and dark captured in so many of the works displayed.
“The Exhibition is for people of all levels of intellect,” Councillor Gunnell said. “It tells a story in a way that is quite emotional and obviously sometimes extremely sad – scary actually – but,” she said, “it gives inspiration in how people can come together and make a difference.”
The content of the Exhibition is becoming increasingly known and more approachable as the cracks in the Great Firewall of China get bigger. The brutal persecution of Falun Gong has been going since 1999. All the artists in this Exhibition are Falun Gong practitioners. Some were tortured in China.
Truth Compassion Forbearance (the Zhen Shan Ren of the Exhibition’s title) are the three tenets of Falun Gong. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP), being atheist, cannot comprehend these spiritual principles. It continue to be pulled by its lust for power, abusing human life for short term gain.
One painting in the Exhibition, “Organ Crimes” by Dong Xiqiang, shows two sides of contemporary China. On the left is the blooded body of a man, still alive, who is forcibly held on an operating table by two men, one in military, the other in surgical uniforms, while a third man dressed as a surgeon takes a healthy organ from the prone man.
On the right, an older man in surgeon’s robes, perhaps a supervisor or senior agent in the pageant, has paused while removing his glasses. He looks at the ground. A Falun Gong badge and the note from the man on the table have fallen there. The note is to his mother, wishing her well, Perhaps this surgeon now sees more clearly what he is involved with.
This duality – of life and death happening without intervention from the CCP and an awakening of an old conscience suppressed by the CCP – is displayed in the painting.
The barbarity of organ harvesting may be little known in China but to the English speaking world, David Matas, David Kilgour, Ethan Gutmann, and Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting (DAFOH) have publicized the practice through websites, books, tours and talks, most recently to the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood and UK Parliament in Westminster as well as the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, and Leeds.
There will be another presentation to UK MPs in Westminster near the end of June.
Dong Xiqiang also painted “Who Am I?” where a young woman in a dress decorated with sewn rose or peony flowers sits looking at a book on the ground.
The book is in Chinese, ‘Stories of Reincarnation’. A small paper lotus with the words meaning ‘Falun Dafa is Good’ printed on a piece of card tied to the lotus is on top of the book. This is an emblem frequently given to the public by Falun Gong (also known as Falun Dafa) practitioners.
The gossamer skirt of the woman’s dress is like the spume on top of the ocean wave behind her, suggesting the fragility and turbulence of life. The elaborate and delicate work on the dress suggests she is rich but, like the froth topping the wave, richness is soon gone.
Grahame Mellanby, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (RSA), said, in a video of the Exhibition, that he is a ‘great Renaissance fan’. The European Renaissance greatly influences the painters of The Art of Zhen Shan Ren. They call their work Neo-Renaissance.
Mr Mellanby said “Who Am I?” by Dong, had lots of Renaissance qualities. The use of light particularly.
He said that viewing from about four meters is the correct way to look at Renaissance portrait work and doing so with this piece makes the picture “absolutely come to life”.
The Exhibition in general, he said, was fascinating and sent a message out to people. He said the RSA was also trying to educate people with enlightenment in the twenty-first century.
The contrast in the two paintings by one artist is an indication of the breadth of the works in the Exhibition.
“It’s absolutely fantastic,” Councillor Gunnell said. “I think that young people and even children would be fascinated and interested in the artwork and Exhibition here, they’d find it appealing, they’d definitely enjoy it.”
She said, “I would recommend it to everyone.”