Forensics age Tibet’s “disappeared” Panchen Lama

Rob Sharp
  • By
  • Arts
  • Last updated: Tuesday, 19 April 2011 at 9:57 am

 Forensics age Tibets disappeared Panchen Lama

 Forensics age Tibets disappeared Panchen Lama

Tibet’s Panchen Lama is a figure of utmost religious and political importance. In Tibet, the Panchen and Dalai Lamas have a mutually significant relationship. The Panchen Lama is involved in selecting the next Dalai Lama and vice-versa. In recent years, the identity of the Panchen Lama has become a source of dispute and political leverage between China and their separatist opposition.

While China maintains the Panchen Lama is Gyaltsen Norbu, a 16-year-old boy hand-picked by Beijing, the Dalai Lama’s choice, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima [top left], was whisked away by the Chinese authorities in 1995 while he was still an infant. He has not been seen in public since, though unconfirmed sightings are common. Human rights groups describe him as the “world’s youngest political prisoner”.

Tavares Strachan, a fine art graduate from Yale University – whose previous projects include showing a refrigerated block of ice outside the Brooklyn Museum – is currently the artist-in-residence at The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). His show Sometimes Lies are Prettier at London’s Rossi & Rossi Gallery “explores the themes of invisibility”, and one of its many ideas is intriguing.

With the help of a US forensic artist Mr Strachan has artificially aged one of the few images of the original Panchen Lama, now widely circulated, creating new images showing the young man as he ages, and what he might look like now, aged 22.

“We all have a stake in injustice and displacement,” said Mr Strachan, talking from the Bahamas, where he lives. “The impetus come from thinking about invisibility, and how some societies bring that into being.”

The show “invites us to re-examine the ways in which we perceive and engage with the material manifestations of everyday life.”

At the very least, the invented history suggested by these images is unnerving; there are also obvious parallels with the current news agenda.

The show shuts on Thursday.

  • Tara Plochocki

    “Separatist opposition”? Did China Daily edit this for you?

  • Rob Sharp

    Hi Tara, I’m happy with those words, I don’t view them as politically loaded. Thanks.

  • Tara Plochocki

    You are aware then that when China calls for a crackdown, it accuses Tibetans of being “separatists” by way of justification for violent action against them? And that when publications outside of China report on those edicts, the term “separatists” often appears in quotation marks, as if to attribute the accusatory connotations of that language to the Chinese and not the publication?

  • Rob Sharp

    As far as I’m concerned, separatist’s dictionary definition refers to any group of people which wants to be “separate”. That applies here. If the word I’d used was “dissident” or “rebel” I’d worry more. The New York Times doesn’t place it in inverted commas; I’m not going to either. Cheers for your note.

  • Tara Plochocki

    The headline also says “China Sees Separatist Threats,” making it clear that it’s China, not the NYT dubbing the Tibetans as separatists. The dictionary defines words out of context. As a journalist, I would think you have an obligation to pay heed to context, especially with regard to employing terms that a dictatorship routinely uses to rationalize crackdowns.

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