A photo exhibit of life in Tibet on display at the University of Minnesota this week has outraged local Tibetans who are now staging a counterexhibit.
The original exhibit, “Tibet Today: Sights of Western China,” is sponsored by the Chinese Consulate in Chicago and organized by the university’s Chinese Students and Scholars Association.
Walk through the display at Coffman Memorial Union and you’ll see pictures of smiling Tibetans drinking clean water and going to school, and images of new highways and buildings.
You’ll see a far different image of life inside Tibet at the counterexhibit around the corner.
Presented by the local chapter of Students for a Free Tibet, the display is called “Tibet Today: Exposing the Truth.”
It includes a wall of haunting photos of people who have set themselves on fire to protest living conditions.
Since 2009, there have been 111 self-immolations in Tibet, said Tenzin Sonam, president of Students for a Free Tibet’s local branch. An estimated 3,000 Tibetans live in Minnesota, making it the nation’s second-largest Tibetan population.
Sonam says his group is not trying to shut down the Chinese students’ exhibit, though he calls it “total propaganda.” He hopes people will also visit the counterexhibit and “judge for yourself what you think is the truth.”
Captions for photos in the “Tibet Today: Sights of Western China” exhibit describe poor conditions in “old Tibet,” vs. advancements that came after the “peaceful liberation” in 1959.
Sonam acknowledged the Chinese government has invested in roads and bridges to modernize life in Tibet, but he says the exhibit doesn’t tell the rest of the story. “Tibet right now is kind of like a war zone,” he said. “They don’t have freedom of speech, they don’t have human rights. That is what our exhibition is showing.”
Both exhibits are scheduled to be open all week. At 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Bhuchung K. Tsering, of the International Campaign for Tibet in Washington, D.C., will give a presentation at the “Tibet Today: Exposing the Truth” exhibit.