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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

UN censors Edmonton artists' sculpture

July 23, 2010

Edmonton artists 'shocked' victims' murals removed
By Sheila Pratt
Edmonton Journal (Canada)
July 21, 2010

EDMONTON -- Two Edmonton artists are shocked that
part of their internationally renowned work, The
Gun Sculpture, was subject to censorship at a
United Nations exhibition in Vienna this summer
after pressure from the Chinese delegation.

The 4.5-tonne sculpture, welded together from
deactivated guns, landmines and ammunition, has
been shown in many countries, including at UN
headquarters in New York in 2001, and has never
run into problems, said artist Sandra Bromley,
who built the sculpture with Wallis Kendal.

Besides the weapons, the exhibit includes panels
with photographs of more than 100 victims of
violence from dozens of countries, including two images of Tibetan nuns.

All the photographs were removed in an act of "blunt censorship," said Bromley.

That happened after the Chinese objected to
exhibit organizers and other UN departments at
the UN's Vienna International Centre. China
invaded Tibet in 1950, and has suppressed several
uprisings in the Himalayan country.

The two parts of the exhibit must be displayed
together to maintain the integrity of the art,
said Bromley, noting that the 114 photos have
been displayed at every stop. Text with each image is displayed separately.

"We were absolutely shocked," said Bromley. "This
was done without any consultation or permission."

The sculpture -- which includes 7,000 small arms,
all of which were used in conflicts around the
world -- is a statement about the history of
guns. The victims' photos are designed to
"reflect the impact of guns, the human loss," she said.

There's a third element to the exhibit, a comment
board where people who visit can leave comments
on their reactions to the sculpture.

Bromley and Kendal attended the Vienna opening of
the exhibit on June 3, along with many UN
dignitaries such as Hans Blix, former head of the
International Atomic Energy Commission, who
headed UN weapons inspections in Iraq prior to
the 2003 U.S. invasion. It made a very positive impact, Bromley said.

So the artists were surprised in early July to
receive an e-mail from exhibit organizers saying
that the Chinese delegation wanted the entire
exhibit removed. A few days later, someone
removed the panels with photographs of victims of
violence. It was two days before the panels
turned up again and were put in storage.

"Our exhibit is diminished without the victims'
mural," said Bromley. "No one offered to restore
the panels. We don't look at this art as a
political statement," she said, noting that many
countries are represented on the panels, including Canada.

"The message is the unmasking of violence, we
wanted to challenge the culture of violence and
create dialogue about it," she said.

A brief text is included with each victim photo.
For the Tibetan photos, one reads, "Imprisoned
and beaten in prison" and the second reads,
"Locked up as a teenager because of violent political beliefs."

On July 13, Bromley and Kendal received a letter
from a UN official in Vienna expressing
admiration for the art, but no promise to restore
the panels to the installation. The letter
acknowledged some parts of the exhibit have been removed.

"But by no means has deliberate action been taken
to undermine the integrity or the value of the work," said the letter.

A representative of the Chinese delegation in
Vienna initially acknowledged the country had
complained about the sculpture and later declined
to comment, according to a local newspaper report.

The exhibit in Vienna, called The Art of
Peace-making, opened in June especially for the
annual meeting of the Academic Council of the UN,
said Andy Knight, professor of international
relations at the University of Alberta and a
former vice-president with the council.

"This is on public display to the world and China
wouldn't stand for that at a UN facility," said
Knight, adding he's surprised UN staff gave in to China's pressure.

It's ironic that a sculpture promoting peace
would be censored at the UN, an organization
devoted to peace and security, he said.

Kendal and Bromley's sculpture was displayed
first at the Edmonton Art Gallery in 2000.
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