BELLEVILLE — An art exhibit at Lindenwood University-Belleville is beautiful but disturbing.
Large, colorful prints show Chinese people being arrested, interrogated, beaten and tortured. Some lie dead in the arms of loved ones.
"There are more than 100 types of torture methods," said Peng Su, 39, of Creve Coeur, Mo., who helped install the exhibit in the Welcome Center. "This is one of them."
Su pointed to an image of a handcuffed young woman with a bundle of bricks hanging from her neck and blood dripping from her mouth.
The exhibit focuses on the Chinese government's persecution of people in a spiritual movement known as Falun Gong.
Founded in the 1990s, the movement grew to include millions of Chinese. This concerned the communist government, which characterized it as a cult.
Falun Gong practitioners seek self-improvement through meditation, gentle exercise and a moral philosophy that draws from Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and Western New Ageism.
"The principles are truthfulness, compassion and forebearance," Su said. "And the last word has two meanings in Chinese. It also means tolerance."
Su is a computer specialist who moved to the United States in 1996 and later became a U.S. citizen. She's president of the Missouri Falun Gong Association.
The association arranged for the exhibit, "The Art of Falun Gong: A Peaceful Belief Persecuted in China," to be displayed last year in St. Peters, Mo.
That's where it caught the eye of Marsha Parker, 63, a professor and director of theater at Lindenwood.
"The thing that shocked me was that the persecution of Falun Gong is a fairly new thing, which is tragic when you think about it. It's not what you would have expected in contemporary China, which is a country that is supposed to be becoming modern."
The exhibit consists of about 25 prints of oil paintings. Parker was particularly drawn to "My Son" by artist Xiqiang Dong.
The print shows a Chinese mother with red, swollen eyes cradling her dead son and clutching a medical release slip from a Chinese labor camp.
"It struck me as beautiful and tragic," Parker said. "I don't think you can escape the gaze of the women in that painting."
Parker invited Su and other Falun Gong practitioners to bring the exhibit to Belleville. It's open to the public through March 22.
Andrea Boyles, a sociologist and assistant professor of criminal justice, is one of several Lindenwood employees who has viewed the exhibit. She likes its activist message.
"I thought it captured the heart of revolution and a push for social change," said Boyles, 40, of St. Louis County. "It was just a testament that you can imprison people structurally, but you can't imprison their convictions. Spiritually, they're free. They refuse to accept the status quo."
A reception on Wednesday will include a film presentation, question-and-answer session and comments by a St. Louis Falun Gong practitioner who spent time in a Chinese labor camp.
Parker sees the exhibit as a way Lindenwood can promote discussion and debate on social and political issues.
"It's definitely something that I think academic institutions should be interested in," she said. "It (addresses) free speech, tolerance, self-improvement and the relationship between a government and its people."
At a glance
What: "The Art of Falun Gong: A Peaceful Belief Persecuted in China"
Where: Welcome Center on Lindenwood University-Belleville campus
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, ending March 22
Opening reception: 6 p.m. Wednesday (program with film presentation at 7)
Information: Contact Marsha Parker at 618-239-6175 or firstname.lastname@example.org