Zhen Shan Ren: Profound Beauty Amidst Cruelty

By Pam McLennan, Epoch Times
February 8, 2013 5:41 pm Last Updated: April 3, 2013 5:26 am

OTTAWA—It doesn’t take long for one to see that this is a different kind of art show. It’s not easy to mix the sublime with scenes of torture, but that is what you get at the Zhen, Shan, Ren International Art Exhibit, showing at St. Brigid’s Art Centre until Feb. 10.

On opening night, visitors moved from image to image, sometimes stopping to stare at a scene as if they had walked into another realm and didn’t want to leave.

Raymond Pilon, a public servant, said, “I see an awful lot of talent. They are wonderful, wonderful paintings; they’re beautiful.”

Some are moved to tears, others show anger. Most have questions.

Truth, compassion, and tolerance, three values that seem universal, inspired the painters to portray a sense of beauty amid the hardship of an ongoing persecution of their faith, Falun Dafa (Falun Gong).

It was in July 1999 that the persecution of Falun Dafa began in China. Falun Dafa is a traditional meditative spiritual practice that follows the principles of truth, compassion, and tolerance—zhen, shan, ren in Mandarin Chinese, hence the name of the exhibit.

The organizer of the exhibit, Ottawa artist and art teacher Kathy Gillis, has been painting only Falun Dafa topics and experiences since 2003.

“It’s more than just the beauty of the art, there’s an educational component,” she said.

“It is the realism, it is the colours, it is the idea of storytelling in art. There has been a movement in the last few decades away from any direct conversation with the viewer. The viewer is supposed to have an internal dialogue with the art. There is no direct conversation with the viewer. If there is any narrative in the art, then contemporary artists will consider that art to be problematic.”

Former MP David Kilgour said he had seen some of the paintings before at other exhibits and that some were new to him.

“I believe that we live in a visual age and that many of these paintings have a huge impact on people. Like that one over there of that girl in Manhattan I can never get out of my mind, and that one in the corner of the girl with the ashes. Those things go away with you and they never leave you. That’s why I say we should get 34 million Canadians to come here to see this,” he said.

After viewing the paintings, visitors shared that they hadn’t seen anything like it and it was the feelings of serenity and peace emanating from the paintings, despite the sometimes painful images, that impressed them most.