Still Beating: Wei Jane Chir’s “Buddha’s Tears”November 10, 2015
Award-winning investigative journalist Ethan Gutmann estimates that in China, 64,000 prisoners practicing Falun Gong may have been killed for their organs between 2000 and 2008. Falun Gong practitioners have been persecuted for their spirituality and arrested as prisoners of conscience since 1999 for their direct opposition to the state’s communist ideology. Only recently, through detective work by journalists and human rights activists, have details of China’s illegal transplanting practices come to light.
Artist’s Book resident Wei Jane Chir came to WSW to edition her artist’s book Buddha’s Tears, about China’s decades-long history of organ harvesting. As a practitioner of Falun Gong herself, she’s using her tools as an artist to make this information reach a wider audience.
“We are all humans, all part of this global community,” Wei Jane says. “If something’s rotten and you don’t stop it, then it affects all of us.”
The cover of Buddha’s Tears is complex and mysterious, mirroring the very narrative inside. Twenty different colors of ink combine to make the title almost invisible, hidden much like the story of organ harvesting has been for years. In certain lights and angles, the oranges and browns of the cover melt into a sea of blue with the golden title floating in the center.
Wei Jane’s title comes from the legend of a Buddha statue in China that, in times of crisis, weeps. By referencing it, Wei Jane posits that the undisclosed horror of organ harvesting brings the Buddha to tears. The book opens on a pair of downcast eyes, then a bronze ocean, then a somber quote to prepare the viewer for the story about to unfold:
“Master once said, the ocean is the tears of the Buddha,” the opening of the book begins. “I asked the Master quietly, but why does the Buddha have so many tears?”
Buddha’s Tears’ thirteen tryptic pages are dense with visual and textual information. Combining digitally- and screen-printed imagery, each page is filled with the history of Falun Gong, its persecution, and the legal cases brought against China. Graphs and tables of transplant numbers are paired with meditating Falun Gong practitioners; harvesting processes are broken down in hand-drawn images sit beside covers of books and documentaries on organ harvesting. Wei Jane is an artist-meets-journalist, providing facts and charts on the subject while injecting her own artistic vision throughout.
Wei Jane has written articles and created other works protesting China’s communism and the mistreatment of Falun Gong practitioners. In 2003, just a few years after China began a propaganda campaign against Falun Gong, she came to WSW and made an artist’s book, The Gate of Heavenly Peace. It features letterpressed poems by Wei Jane layered over etchings of photographs of violence towards Falun Gong practitioners at the Tiananmen, also known as the Gate of Heavenly Peace. (WSW has digitally-printed copies in our bookstore.) Wei Jane celebrates Falun Gong practitioners’ peaceful expression of beliefs at Tiananmen Square and their struggle for freedom in the face of persecution.
“People just seeing my artist’s books probably think I’m very political, but I’m not. I’m just fighting for my beliefs, and giving others the information and tools to fight, too.”
The cover of Buddha’s Tears is wrapped in silk, the accordion-bound pages unraveling to form a long scroll. Using the materials traditionally used in ancient Chinese storytelling, Wei Jane ironically lays out the facts of China’s contemporary cruelty. This sense of irony is reflected in the book’s final image: a bright red China stitched together with black thread. Wei Jane’s niece, a surgeon, taught Wei Jane how to do a surgical stitch over the silkscreened China.
“While watching my niece stitching, I really thought about the training that goes into saving a life,” Wei Jane says. “But these doctors in China, they’re taking lives.” The stitches act as a symbol of healing, but allude to the wound which has been festering there all along.
Wei Jane Chir has spent almost twenty years living and making art in Europe and America, as well as participating in exhibitions around the world, including in Russia, Germany, Taiwan, and the United States. She studied painting and printmaking at San Francisco State University, and earned a BFA and an MFA from the University of Art in Berlin. Her work is a search for harmony and peace in a world of conflict, inspired by culture and social environments. Get a behind-the-scenes look at Wei Jane’s book’s production on our Flickr.