HENNA POHJOLAThe Hidden Truth
My exhibition is based on my research about the background of the Falun Gong persecution initiated in 1999 by the Chinese Communist Party.
Falun Gong (also known as Falun Dafa) is a traditional Chinese spiritual practice of the mind and the body. It was first taught publicly by Li Hongzhi in 1992, and today it is practiced in about a hundred countries. The practice is free of charge and involves no religious formalities, worshipping or hierarchy. The essential part of the practice is to improve one´s thoughts and character by following three principles: Truthfulness, Compassion and Tolerance (in Chinese, Zhēn-Shàn-Rěn). In addition to its moral teachings, Falun Gong consists of four slow standing exercises and one sitting meditation.
Although the practice initially enjoyed considerable support from Chinese officialdom, soon after the mid-1990s the Communist Party started to view Falun Gong as a potential threat. This was due to its independence from the state and the huge number of its practitioners: by 1999, there were more than 70 million Falun Gong practitioners. On 30 November 1999, President Jiang Zemin gave the Chinese officialdom orders to destroy Falun Gong. The persecution has now lasted for 18 years, and millions of Chinese Falun Gong practitioners have been subject to human rights abuses.
The exhibition has seven large portrait drawings of Falun Gong practitioners living in Finland. In these portraits, I wanted to bring out their most essential characteristics by adding to them elements that work as distinctive signs leading the viewer's attention to the subjects´ personalities, thoughts and lives. In my works, I have analysed the significance of iconoclasm in the portrait genre: how a portrait can be such a strong symbol of a person´s status that its display is banned. My drawings contain references to the history of portrait art, such as human and spatial portraits of the Renaissance. They also contain text, which was already done in the 17th century portraits. The texts depict the practitioners' experiences of persecution.
In my works, I also analyse the destruction of traditional values and cultures, and in particular the ethical value questions of the Zhēn-Shàn-Rěn art and the approach that emphasises professional virtuosity and aesthetic goals. I have created the portraits with respect for the practitioners´ set of values.
In the background of my art is my human rights work with my partner Heikki Reponen to stop Falun Gong persecution in China. One of the narrative elements in the exhibition is his series of documentary photos about human rights work.
As another part of the exhibition I selected a documentary film called Human Harvest by the Vancouver-based filmmaker Leon Lee. Unfolding the story of Falun Gong persecution and forced organ donor transplants, the documentary has won several awards, such as the Peabody Award in 2014.