Forensics age Tibet’s “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.
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