Thursday May 5th, 2004

FRIBOURG: Zhang Cuiying is an artist and painter. Today she is exhibiting her work at the University, but she is also talking of the prison where she spent eight months for her beliefs.

The student association of Fribourg University is holding a 3-day exhibition of the traditional paintings of Zhang Cuiying. The exhibition ends this evening. These pieces are created out of respect for a tradition that the painter continues to follow. She adapts and blends in with it, following the ancestral teachings of her masters. Zhang Cuiying's only stretching of the rules is to paint human beings, animals and mountains, whereas Chinese painters usually restrict themselves to only one of these genres in which they perfect themselves over an entire lifetime. The young artist is brilliant. She excels in this delicate watercolour and ink work and her traditional scenes of Chinese life lead us to dreams.

"People are being tortured"

Yet since 1999 Zhang Cuiying's daily life has been of quite another kind and it is about this that she speaks as she travels around the world. "Human rights are being flouted in Chinese prisons and people are arrested for their belief" says the artist, accompanied by a friend whose husband died in prison. Living in Australia, Zhang Cuiying has been travelling for three-and-a-half years and is not ready to stop. She has already exhibited and testified in forty countries and a hundred towns.

"I could no longer paint"

A victim of polyarthritis that left her hand stiff, Zhang Cuiying could no longer paint. She tried numerous medicines without success. She explains that from 1997, the Falun Gong exercises purified her body and spirit and allowed her to recommence her work. "Since then, I have made it a part of my life. In 1999, everything changed radically. China, which had supported the traditional movement since 1992, now made it illegal and arrested and imprisoned Falun Gong practitioners. More than three hundred of them were tortured to death, more than twenty thousand are or were imprisoned in atrocious conditions", confirmed the painter, who denounces the intentions of her country's leaders on human rights.

Zhang Cuiying hopes, through her action and work, that her testimony will attract the attention of international opinion on practices that she does not accept. Has this terrible suffering influenced her artistic work? No, she says, "Chinese painting is an art given by Gods and requires great integrity on the part of the artist." She draws her strength from it.