A Hong Kong department store has removed a digital artwork containing hidden references to jailed dissidents, in an incident the artist says is evidence of the erosion of free speech in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.
It was unclear if the government played a role in the decision to remove the artwork, which came just days after a slasher film featuring Winnie the Pooh, a figure often used in anti-jokes, was pulled from local theaters. Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Patrick Amadon’s “No Rioters” was displayed on a billboard at the SOGO Causeway Bay store for an exhibition that began last Friday, as the city touted its return as a vibrant cultural hub after years of pandemic travel restrictions. Art Basel Hong Kong, a leading art fair in Asia, kicked off this week, along with other art events.
Hong Kong is a former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997, vowing to preserve its Western-style liberties. The city was rocked by a massive pro-democracy protest movement in 2019, which ended after China imposed a “National Security Law” that criminalized much dissent.. Since then, the city government has jailed and silenced many activists.
Amadon said he had been closely following the protests in Hong Kong and wanted his work to show solidarity with the protesters and remind people of the city’s new reality.
“It was too much to watch Hong Kong Art Week pretend the Chinese government didn’t crush a democracy and turn Hong Kong into a vassal surveillance state… because it’s a convenient place for a good market,” the Hong Kong-based artist The Angels. saying.
Amadon said he knew the work would be controversial and was surprised it had been on public display for days. It featured a panoramic surveillance camera.
Matrix-like text flashes revealed the names and prison sentences of convicted activists and other prominent figures in the pro-democracy movement, including legal scholar Benny Tai and former student leader Joshua Wong, who were accused of subversion in the largest case brought by the National Security Law.
These details showed up too quickly to be seen with the naked eye, Amadon said, but viewers could see the details if they used a camera to capture still images. She also referred to journalist-turned-activist Gwyneth Ho, who was assaulted as she livestreamed a mob attack in July 2019 during mass protests sparked by an extradition bill.
The gallery that organized the exhibition did not know if the government ordered the removal of the work, Francesca Boffetti, executive director of Art Innovation Gallery, said in an email.
“Our intermediary told us that the owners of SOGO were concerned about the sensitive political content behind Patrick’s work, so they decided to remove the work from the exhibition immediately,” Boffetti said.
No one mentioned any laws or threatened them with fines, he added, but SOGO’s legal team asked the gallery if it was aware of the content and message of Amadon’s work.
Local police and SOGO did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Office of Culture, Sports and Tourism told the Associated Press that it did not contact SOGO.
Amadon said the gallery told him in an urgent call that it was very concerned about his legal exposure after a conversation with SOGO.
Since the passage of the Homeland Security Law, the city’s art and media communities have learned to be wary of crossing vaguely defined red lines. The pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily was forced to shut down after authorities arrested its top editors and executives and charged them with foreign collusion.. Some artists known for their political work left Hong Kong under the shadow of the law. Some filmmakers have stopped showing their work in the city. Even those who produce non-political content have grown wary. But the government insisted that its residents continue to enjoy promised freedoms after the law was enacted.
Amadon said that what happened to his work showed that the city had lost its freedom of expression and its artistic freedom.
“This objectively shows that they are no longer here in the same way as before,” he said. “From a narrative standpoint, I mean, it had to be censored and removed, I think, to be a complete piece.”
(with information from AP)
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