Art show at U depicts struggles of Falun Gong’s followers

The exhibit in CoffmanUnion Great Hall portrays the Falun Gong practice’s persecution from the Chinese government.

Nikki Wee

When University alumna Yang Zhang was going through stressful times as a student, she began practicing Falun Gong, an ancient Chinese tradition of meditation and self-improvement.

“The teachings of truthfulness, compassion and tolerance helped me to be more relaxed,” she said. “I was able to take things as they are and not be so uptight. It’s an overall great experience.”

Five years later, Zhang is helping fellow practitioners of a discipline that helped her at a time when she needed it most.

Zhang, along with other practitioners, is sponsoring the “Truthfulness, Compassion and Forbearance” art exhibit that will be in Coffman Union Great Hall today until Thursday.

The exhibit will house a collection of more than 40 paintings by more than 20 artists from around the world, some of whom have personally experienced torture in labor camps.

These pieces are described as depicting persecution of Falun Gong practitioners by the Chinese communist regime as well as expressing a sense of triumph and resilience in the midst of terror and anguish.

While the practice of Falun Gong was once supported by the Chinese government, its popularity has become a threat to the government, said Nick Malec, president of the Falun Gong Twin Cities Club.

Because of this, the Chinese government sent practitioners to labor camps, where they were tortured and beaten, said Malec, a cultural studies and comparative literature sophomore.

“We want students to be aware of the persecution and to also understand what Falun Gong is,” Zhang said. “It hasn’t been reported on much. When we tell people what’s happening in China, they’re shocked.”

Zhang said volunteers helped pass out 2,000 to 3,000 postcards to help advertise the event, and she is hoping many of them decide to come.

Jessica McQueen, University junior and vice president of the Falun Gong Twin Cities Club, helped pass out the postcards at Coffman Union last week.

“People who’ve seen me promoting Falun Gong before were surprised to see that I was handing out fliers for an art exhibit,” she said. “But they responded pretty well.”

First-year student Matt Graffunder said he might stop by to see the exhibit because of his love of art and his support of human rights.

“It’s important to me that every person be given a place to sleep, food to eat and the ability to believe what they want to believe without being persecuted,” he said.

One oil painting Zhang remembered from the exhibit depicts a little girl crying after returning home to find her house sealed and her parents taken away.

“That one touched me in particular,” she said.

Zhang said she believes many students will feel the same.

“I think that human rights is a big issue at the University,” Zhang said. “Students will find this exhibit to be very moving.”

Malec said that despite being persecuted, followers are able to maintain the courage to practice Falun Gong while firmly holding on to their beliefs of nonviolence and compassion.

“A lot of people are moved when they see that despite persecution, these people can maintain practicing to become a better person,” he said. “People suffer so much but they keep on practicing.”