Artist Honors Fallen Tibetans

A Chinese artist paints the images of Tibetans who have burned themselves to challenge Beijing's rule.
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Liu Yi in an undated photo.
Liu Yi in an undated photo.
Photo courtesy of Woeser

A Chinese painter has begun work on a series of portraits of Tibetans who have set themselves ablaze in protest against Beijing’s rule in Tibetan regions, saying he wants to document the plight of those “who died for human dignity.”

Beijing-based artist Liu Yi said he is forging ahead with the black and white portraits despite government prohibitions.

Though the burnings themselves touch on political issues, Liu says that his own work reflects humanitarian concerns relating to the 96 self-immolations that have occurred so far.

“I have already finished almost 40 portraits,” Liu told RFA’s Mandarin service on Tuesday.

“I might have to continue my work, even though I hope there will be no more self-immolations,” Liu said.

Liu said that he began to paint Tibet-themed works in the 1980s, “and now I want to keep a record of the fallen Tibetan protesters.”

Liu said the authorities have prevented him from uploading photos of his works.

“On last year’s International Human Rights Day, Dec. 10, I uploaded 12 Tibetan portraits onto my Weibo account on the popular Chinese website But the account was soon closed,” he said.

Restricted information

Information about Tibetan self-immolation protests is restricted in China, Liu said, adding that he is unable to upload further portraits of Tibetan protesters onto a newly opened Weibo account.

“Chinese media never report anything about the Tibetan self-immolations. I got my information from foreign media outlets by scaling the firewall on the Internet,” he said, referring to the system of filters and controls used in China to block online access to politically sensitive topics.

Liu said that he obtained images of Tibetan protesters from the blog of Beijing-based Tibetan writer Woeser, and then painted their portraits.

“I want to paint a portrait of each of the Tibetans who have self-immolated, as a way of keeping a record of the fiery protests.”

“They died for human dignity,” he said.

In painting the portraits of the fallen, Liu said in a Jan. 12 interview with the Associated Press, he hopes to call attention to their sacrifice “from a humanitarian perspective.”

“You can see that many of them are very young,” Liu said.

Reported by Hong Kong correspondent Xin Lin for RFA’s Mandarin service. Translated by Ping Chen. Written in English by Richard Finney and Ping Chen.





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