Iaohin Amber Gallery in Macau, an autonomous region on the southern coast of China, canceled a performance by Tibetan artist Tashi Norbu only a day before it was scheduled to take place, the Hong Kong Free Press reports. The artist was told that it was “too risky” to continue with the event after Beijing authorities informed the gallery that he was not permitted to enter Macau SAR (Macao Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China) and could face deportation or detention.
When he received the news, he was about to board the ferry to Macau from a port in Hong Kong. He said, “I was very sad, because I am very much focused on my art, and focused on showing the artistic culture of my country.” He added, “In my art there’s no political issues.”
Simon Lam, Iaohin Amber Gallery’s curator, said in a statement: “I am personally very disappointed with authorities’ attitude to arts and seeing it as a threat, banning what is nothing else than pure art performance. This is not what Macau should be doing, censorship is simply wrong, and in this case it simply cannot be justified, as Tashi has been allowed to perform in Hong Kong last week without any problems.”
Based in the Netherlands, Norbu creates paintings of traditional Tibetan and Buddhist imagery as well as scenes of the Dalai Lama and Tibetans in exile in order to tell contemporary stories. On February 26, he was going to paint a fire rooster, a zodiac sign shared by China and Tibet in celebration of Losar, the Tibetan New Year. After the objections of the Chinese government, the gallery was afraid its funding would be cut—last year it received a subsidy of more than $125,000—and put works that the artist had shipped for the event into storage.
“What Macau has denied us here is the ability to promote art,” Lam added. “China is engaging with the world economically and with that is the expectation we can engage with China culturally. It’s a decision that I think does not make sense. All I can express is my profound disappointment and my concern for him, and I also want to ensure that when the event gets under way today, I will be doing what I can to get his views out there to mark what happened and to honor him.”
This is not Norbu’s first clash with the Chinese authorities. He was detained for an hour in Macau last year after visiting the gallery to see an exhibition titled “Tibet Revealed,” featuring Tibetan scroll paintings alongside works by exiled Tibetan painters.