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China detains US artist preparing Tibet protest

Aug. 19, 2008, 12:29 p.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) An American artist who planned to use laser beams to flash "free Tibet" on buildings in downtown Beijing was detained Tuesday, according to a colleague and a pro-Tibet group.

James Powderly, co-founder of Graffiti Research Lab in New York, was detained before dawn as he prepared to use a handheld green laser to project messages on prominent structures in Beijing, according to Students for a Free Tibet.

Powderly's colleague, Nathan Dorjee, said in New York that he received a text message from the artist which said he had been detained around 3 a.m. by police.

Officials at Beijing's Municipal Publicity Security Bureau did not answer phone calls Tuesday night. His whereabouts remained unknown, the group said.

"He was going to project a message that said, 'Free Tibet,' and some other messages that would have been three-stories high in different locations in Beijing," Dorjee said.

Powderly is the latest foreign activist detained after seeking to use the Olympic Games to criticize China for its rule in Tibet, alleging human rights abuses and religious restrictions. Other foreign demonstrators, many of whom tried to hang "Free Tibet" banners in Beijing, have been quickly picked up and deported.

Powderly is a well-known New York graffiti artist who projects laser beam "tag" messages onto iconic skyscrapers and other notable structures such as the Brooklyn Bridge. His messages are typically political and often promote freedom of speech and expression.

His projects have been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Tate Modern museum in London.

Students for a Free Tibet said Powderly and some colleagues had been "disinvited" from a new media art exhibition in Beijing at the National Media Art Museum of China earlier this year due to their uncompromising stance on freedom of expression.