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Gallery Defiant Over Request to Pull Exhibition

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 02/03/01; March 1, 2002.]

Mail & Guardian (Johannesburg)
March 1, 2002 Posted to the web February 28, 2002.

Kevin Scott

The Durban consulate general of the People's Republic of China (PRC) has tried to censor a Truth About Tibet photographic exhibition that opened this week.

The consul, Zemin Yu, went beyond a formal complaint against the gallery by appealing to the provincial government to stop the exhibition. The chairperson of the Natal Society of Arts (NSA), Jane du Rand, said that a provincial official also called on her and ask her to stop the show.

The Mail & Guardian obtained an unsigned fax from the consulate general that was addressed to KwaZulu-Natal MEC of Education and Culture Gabriel Ndabandaba asking him to "use your influence and take timely and effective measures to stop the exhibition".

Ndabandaba, bending under pressure from the consul, reportedly tried to stop the exhibition by sending a staff member to visit gallery officials requesting them to stop the show before its opening on Tuesday night.

But the exhibitors, the NSA Gallery, have flouted requests to halt the show saying they "will not be censored". "The government's behaviour is cause for alarm," says gallery curator Storm Janse van Rensburg.

Du Rand says she was visited on Monday at her studio by Emmanuel Khanyile, chief director of arts and culture in the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education and Culture. "He showed me a fax from the Chinese consulate and requested me to stop the exhibition."

Khanyile declined to comment on the issue and Ndabandaba failed to respond to questions by the time of going to press.

Defiantly, the exhibition opened on Tuesday evening amidst heavy criticism from Yu, who says it "maliciously vilifies" the Chinese government. "The NSA reserves the right to hold the exhibition in accordance with the South African Constitution's provision for the freedom of speech," Van Rensburg said.

He says the gallery accepted the presentation because of its cultural interest. "We feel that if we do stop the show, it's censorship. This is a freedom of speech issue," he says.

The consul formally launched a complaint against the exhibition last week during a meeting with Van Rensberg, taking the Chinese official line that "Tibet is an inalienable part of the Chinese territory".

Xiusheng Wang, a spokesperson for the consul, says the exhibition "distorts the facts" and is "not in line with the smooth development trend of friendly relationship" between the PRC and South Africa. He also warned Du Rand that "this consulate is paying close attention to it".

"We want the government and gallery to do what is good for relations," Wang told the M&G earlier this week.

Tibet has become a notoriously sensitive point for the PRC since the early 1960s when the Chinese government clamped down on the region's theocracy and replaced it with a communist administration. Tibetans, who are leading a campaign for their autonomy and recognition, are now seen as terrorists in the eyes of the PRC.

In his request to Ndabandaba, Yu says the leader of the Tibetans, the Dalai Lama and "overseas anti-China forces have been carrying out split-activities, sabotaging China's peace and unity".

The Tibetan Society of South Africa, which organised the exhibition, says although it's a "delicate situation" for the government, they would totally appose any restrictions on their rights to host the exhibition. "The audience can decide for themselves whether the photographs are true or not," says the association's representative Renato Palmi.

Included in the exhibition are photographs smuggled out of China from Tibet ranging from the 1959 Lhasa uprisings - when thousands of Tibetans reportedly died in clashes with the Chinese - to present day conditions in the area.

Truth About Tibet runs until March 17, the 43rd anniversary of the Dali Lama's exile from China.

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