Parkdale is one of Melbourne’s beautiful seaside suburbs about 40 minutes from the CBD. And it was here at the Shirley Burke Theatre Gallery that some 50 guests braved the winter weather to attend the opening of the Art of Zhen Shan Ren.
Although the gallery is quite small, it provided a perfect setting for the selected paintings—paintings that could take the viewer on an amazing journey towards the divine. Seen against the pristine whiteness of the gallery walls these paintings positively glowed into vibrant life, and as the first guests stepped through the door, clouds tinged with pink from the setting sun could be seen reflected through the glass wall of the gallery—a fitting complement to this outstanding exhibition. Some of the guests remarked on the energy in the gallery being so strong—something like a surround sound experience in a movie theatre. Everyone was moved by the beauty as well as the stories expressed in the paintings.
Hairdresser and makeup artist Leonie Rendell had tears in her eyes as she looked at the paintings. “I just can’t talk about it because I’ll cry,” she said. “The paintings, the emotions, the looks in the eyes, you feel the soul. It is just beautiful! It is so moving, you just feel the soul, and I think that says it all.”
A favourite of Leonie’s was “Pure Lotus”, the painting of a girl in sitting meditation among the lotus flowers. “Oh, my goodness that is so beautiful! The purity and serenity of that, it’s just divine, really divine. The other one I like is the traditional one in the moonlight with the grandmother and the child putting the posters up. It is beautiful, beautifully drawn! Just generations coming together and doing something together and in the moonlight, beautiful.”
In her opening speech Ms Janine Rankin, the coordinator of the exhibition, gave the “welcome to country” paying tribute to the elders of the first nation and also to elders from the interfaith groups who were in attendance. After thanking Kingston Arts for the beautiful gallery space, Ms Rankin spoke briefly about the exhibition and its mission to bring awareness of the beauty of the practice of Falun Dafa as well as drawing attention to the ongoing persecution of Falun Dafa practitioners in China. She told the gathering that on July 20, 1999 Falun Gong was banned in China, and since that date 16 years ago many thousands of practitioners have been tortured in an effort to “transform” them. A part of the exhibition deals with the terrifying ordeals that people have experienced including the artists themselves.
Many of the guests remarked that listening to Janine’s talk had given them an insight into the practice, and an understanding of why it was persecuted in China. They were interested in getting a better understanding of Falun Dafa and its benefits, and particularly appreciated the quality of the art, the persecution paintings and their deeper meaning.
Bhakta Dasa, a minister with the Hare Krishna, had high praise for the exhibition. “Everyone should be free to worship and honour God in the way they see fit. I think this is a wonderful expression of it. It is sad to hear of the torture and the suffering that has gone on with people who are dedicated to God consciousness.”
He also said that art was a valid medium to express human rights. “There is a saying in our tradition that a book can tell so much, but a painting can tell so much more. Paintings are a window or door to the spiritual realm. So when we see these paintings we actually enter into ourselves—our spiritual consciousness. We are familiar with that already from previous experiences so it’s really wonderful, it’s really well done.”
Bhakta really related to the painting where the girl has levitated above her torturers, called “Shock” by Chen Xiaoping. “No matter how much a person is persecuted, how much a person is subjugated or repressed, spirituality will always override that. Classical examples are in all the different religions. Spiritual leaders no matter what they do to them they understood that they are not these material bodies. They are actually a spirit soul and when they connect with that, irrespective of what happens to the body, they remain pure and above that. This painting is an example where this person is actually in just such a conscious state where the whole body becomes transformed into a spiritual entity and is able to levitate.”
The painting itself depicts a true story and Bhakta said he believes that absolutely to be true, as he has experienced it himself. He understands it, but says he is nowhere near the purity of the girl in the painting. “In all spiritual traditions there are examples of people who have that spiritual fervour. It is the 500-year anniversary of the Christian Saint Theresa and she used to be so wrapped up in prayer that she would be seen floating in the church as she was praying. That was true. So you can see this lady in the painting is completely touched by her divine self, and if you are in touch with your divine self you can do anything to the body because the body is simply a car—we take it here we take it there. She has extended herself completely above the bodily concept.”
Bhakta wished every success with the exhibition and said it was a wonderful way of presenting the philosophy and also the struggle that people are going through and would recommend it to everyone.
Genevieve Marie is a family counsellor. “I love the exhibition,” she said. “I really connected to it. I love this image in particular (pointing at ‘The Call of Innocence’ by Chen Xiaoping, a painting of a young child standing in the rain holding a placard). I can see the practice just in the paintings. We’ve spoken about this practice, but now I see it in the images—it really tells a story. It’s very touching.”
Ms Marie said she has learnt more about Falun Dafa from this exhibition: “We’ve spoken about it, but I can see it now and I can feel it now. I understand the meditation, and I understand the physical practice, and why people would love it, because it is connecting them with the divine. It is very clear now.”
Genevieve said that she thinks the persecution in China is very wrong not only for this religion, but all the other religions that are banned there. “I belong to interfaith in Kingston and we really believe in freedom and respect. We have 12 on our committee all different religions that are all totally respected and have equal value round the table. I really believe in that and I’m so happy to be part of that here. The values of Falun Dafa—Truth, Compassion and Tolerance are universal values and can’t really offend another religion. How could it offend anybody—truth, compassion and tolerance, they are beautiful qualities. Imagine if that were taught in schools, imagine if it were taught everywhere, if people practiced those basic beliefs—the world does need that.”
The Art of Zhen Shan Ren exhibiting at the Shirley Burke Theatre Gallery Parkdale 8th May – 6th June 2015
Gallery hours Wednesday – Friday 9 am – 5 pm Saturday 12 pm – 5 pm