Iao Hin gallery claimed Tibetan-descendent painter Tashi Norbu was barred from entering the territory, but the secretary for Security denied. The artist explains to mART: he had arrived to Hong Kong International Airport, when he received a phone call from curator Simon Lam warning him not to come, as he would be barred from entering the city.

By Luciana Leitão

It all started some months ago. Tashi Norbu was first invited to do a live painting session of a fire rooster in Macau, at an exhibition which took place yesterday, on February 26, at Lilau Square. But days before the event, he was asked by the curator, Simon Lam, not to do a fire rooster, as it would look like a map of China and there would be government officials at the opening event . Yet, Mr Norbu never even made it to the event, as, when the Tibetan-descendent painter was preparing to get in the ferry departing from the Hong Kong International Airport, the curator called him warning him not to come, as “he would be detained and sent to Hong Kong or even deported to the Netherlands [where he is based]”.

On April 2016, Macau’s art gallery Iao Hin first invited Tashi Norbu to feature in an exhibition called Tibet Revealed: An In Depth Look at Art from the Roof of the World, which would mark the gallery’s reopening celebration, after a three-month remodelling project. As he was entering the territory, through the Macau International Airport, the artist faced some problems. “I was stopped for one hour, they wanted me to write down [some forms] — they stopped me after checking the passport and seeing that I was Tibetan,” he recalls.

“They gave me a form asking all the details, they gave me the same form to fill up three times.” At the end of the formalities, they allowed him to enter, but did not explain much. “They didn’t explain what they wanted and wouldn’t explain what was happening.” When he was returning to the Netherlands, through the Macau International Airport, he faced the same problem. “One of the guys could communicate — he said: you do this one time, so that next time you won’t have to do this.”

This time, he chose to come through Hong Kong International Airport and had no problems at the neighbouring region. When he was preparing to board the ferry, he received a phone call from the curator, asking him not to come, as a top official had warned them “he was blacklisted” and “would not be allowed to enter” the territory.

The story

The artist goes back in time to explain the whole story. When discussing which painting he would do for the event, Mr Lam asked him not to paint buddhas, as “top government officials” would be attending, suggesting him to do “a fire rooster,” instead. Mr Norbu agreed, as “that is a new year symbol also for the Tibetans”. Last minute, Mr Lam said it would be better not to do a rooster, “because it looked like a map of China” and he’s a Tibetan. “I didn’t know what to paint.”

Asked by mART what had happened, Mr Lam revealed that he asked Mr Norbu to attend just “as a guest,” as a member of the Cultural Industries Fund — which had sponsored Iao Hin gallery’s renovation work one year before — had warned him — “as a courtesy”— not to have a live painting session, following a warning by the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in the Macau SAR.

Plus, later on, Mr Lam received a phone call “from a very high ranking officer” warning him that Mr Norbu would be “stopped at the border,” should he enter Macau. In addition,the owners of the three-story mansion at Lilau Square, which opened for the event taking place on February 26, also were warned by government officials, he added.

The Public Security Police Force of Macau told mART “it would not comment this case, as it is a particular case”. Yet, the secretary for Security, Wong Sio Chak, denied that Mr Norbu had been barred over the weekend, claiming there was no record of such attempt to enter, according to Portuguese broadcaster Rádio Macau.

Iao Hin gallery had sent a press release to the media, on February 25, claiming the artist had been barred from entering the territory, without any given explanation.