Oxford college removes Suu Kyi’s portrait

October 01, 2017

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LONDON: The Oxford University college where Aung San Suu Kyi studied said on Saturday it had taken down a portrait of the Myanmar leader, a decision that follows widespread criticism of her over the Rohingya crisis.

The portrait, which was on display in the main entrance of St Hugh’s College, has been placed in storage and was replaced on Thursday with a new painting gifted by Japanese artist Yoshihiro Takada.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Suu Kyi studied at St Hugh’s, graduating in philosophy, politics and economics in 1967 before completing a master’s degree in politics in 1968.

“We received a new painting earlier this month which will be exhibited at the main entrance for a period,” the college said in a statement.

“The painting of Aung San Suu Kyi has meanwhile been moved to a secure location.”

The college did not say whether the removal was linked to the ongoing crisis in Myanmar’s western Rakhine State.

Communal violence has torn through the state since Muslim minority Rohingya militants allegedly staged deadly attacks on police posts on August 25. An army-led operation has left scores dead and sent around half a million Rohingya Muslims fleeing the mainly Buddhist country into neighbouring Bangladesh.

The United Nations describes the situation as “ethnic cleansing”.

For its part, the Burma Campaign UK group termed the college decision “cowardly” and urged it to go further. “This seems a rather cowardly action by St Hugh’s. If they have taken down the portrait because of Aung San Suu Kyi defending the Burmese military as they commit ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya, they should say so and write to her urging her to respect human rights,” Mark Farmaner, the campaign’s director, told the Guardian newspaper.

Suu Kyi was awarded an honorary degree by St Hugh’s College in June 2012, which the university said it was not considering withdrawing.

The removal of the 1997 portrait by the Chinese artist Chen Yanning comes a few days before new students arrive at the college to start their courses.

The portrait belonged to Suu Kyi’s husband, the Oxford academic Michael Aris, and was bequeathed to the college after his death in 1999.

St Hugh’s also counts British Prime Minister Theresa May among its alumni.

Published in Dawn, October 1st, 2017