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Richard Gere speaks out on suffering in Tibet

By Claire Lee, The Korea Herald, June 22, 2011

Seoul, South Korea -- American actor and practicing Tibetan Buddhist Richard Gere spoke out on the sufferings of Tibetans under Chinese occupation in Seoul, Wednesday.

“I think it’s impossible to look at these photographs and not realize the extraordinary suffering of the Tibetan people,” Gere told reporters at a press conference promoting his Tibet-themed photo exhibition at Seoul Arts Center. “I think when you see these photographs you have to be aware of the political situation there to understand the depth where I was coming from in offering this exhibition.”

The exhibition, “Pilgrim,” features a total of 64 photographs of Tibet and India taken by Gere, as well as 24 photos of Tibet by 24 renowned photographers, including Annie Leibovitz, Steve Meisel and Jerry Uelsmann. The exhibition currently on at Seoul Arts Center runs till July 24.

Gere, who is the co-founder of the Tibet House in New York City and a persistent advocate for the Tibetan independence movement, is banned from entering China. The photos on exhibit are from a 1993 trip to China and Tibet, the only time he was able to visit those countries.
Hollywood star and practicing Tibetan Buddhist Richard Gere speaks at a press conference promoting his Tibet-themed photo exhibition at the Seoul Arts Center in Seoul, Wednesday. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

Back in the late 1980s, while travelling in India, Gere came across a wall that had a series of drawings of Tibetan nuns being tortured by the Chinese in Tibet. He took a photograph of the wall at the time.

“And in 1993, during my only visit in Tibet, I was able to encounter three nuns who had been just released from Chinese prison in Tibet,” Gere told reporters. “And they told me exactly the same stories (with the drawings). So I included the picture of them in the montage of these drawings that I’d seen on the wall.”

Gere did not hesitate to openly criticize the Chinese government for their occupation of Tibet.

“The same kind of torture and deaths in Chinese prisons in Tibet is still taking place today,” Gere said. “Of course it’s not only in Tibet. The Chinese communist government does it to their own people in China as well.”

Such political remarks were contrary to what art CDI, the Korean PR company for Gere’s exhibition in Seoul, told the press prior to the conference.

The PR company had requested that Gere not be asked “questions that are too political” as he was feeling "sensitive" about the local press. Gere, who seemed to be unaware of art CDI’s request, volunteered to talk about the political situation in Tibet without a reporter asking him about it.

The Hollywood star arrived in Seoul on Monday along with his wife, actress Carey Lowell and their son, Homer Gere, to promote his exhibition and experience Korea’s traditional Buddhist culture.

On Tuesday Gere met with Ven. Jaseung, the head of the Jogye Order, Korea’s largest Buddhist sect, at Jogye Temple in central Seoul. The practicing Buddhist signed the temple’s guest book with a message that wished “peace and happiness” for all beings in the world.

“I had a very nice time there,” Gere told reporters about his visit to Jogye Order on Wednesday. “The monks and nuns were so lovely and generous to us. We had the most extraordinary meal across the street from the temple. Really, really nice vegetarian meal. The Jogye form of Buddhism was actually the first form of Buddhism that I studied.”

Gere said although he has met a lot of Korean students of the Dalai Lama in the past and is very much interested in taking photos to do with Korean Buddhism, he thinks he still needs more time to explore the country first.

“What I am aware of is that Buddhism first came to Korea in the 6th century,” Gere said. “And there has been a direct continuity of very high-level Buddhism here in Korea since the very beginning. So I’d really like to explore how that has influenced the culture here and how it can affect in a very modern way present day and future.”

Gere is scheduled to visit Donghwa Temple near Daegu and Tongdo Temple near Yangsan City, South Gyeongsang Province, on Thursday. He will be participating in meditation, chanting and other Buddhist practices that are part of the “temple experience” programs at the two temples.

He is scheduled to leave on Saturday.

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