Artwork that secretly honored Hong Kong dissidents removed
HONG KONG– A Hong Kong department store has removed a digital artwork containing hidden references to imprisoned dissidents, in an incident the artist says is evidence of the erosion of freedom of expression in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.
It was unclear whether the government played a role in the decision to remove the artwork, it came just days after a slasher film starring Winnie the Pooh, a figure often used in the playful taunts of Chinese President Xi Jinping, has been removed from local cinemas.
Patrick Amadon’s “No Rioters” was displayed on a billboard at the SOGO Causeway Bay Store for an exhibition that opened last Friday as the city promoted its return as a vibrant cultural center after years of pandemic travel restrictions. Art Basel Hong Kong, a leading art fair in Asia, kicked off this week alongside other art events.
Hong Kong is a former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997, promising to retain its Western-style freedoms. 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. The city government has since imprisoned and silenced many activists.
Amadon said he has been following the protests in Hong Kong closely and wants his work to show solidarity with the protesters and remind people of the city’s new reality.
“It was too much to watch Art Week in Hong Kong claiming that 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,” Los Angeles-based artist. said.
Amadon said he knew the artwork would be controversial and was surprised it had been on public display for days. It included a panoramic surveillance camera.
Flashes of Matrix-like text featured the names and prison sentences of convicted activists and other prominent figures in the pro-democracy movement, including jurist Benny Tai and former student leader Joshua Wong, who have both been charged of subversion in the biggest case brought under the National Security Act.
These details were shown 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. He was also referring to journalist-turned-activist Gwyneth Ho who was assaulted while live-streaming a mob attack in July 2019 during massive protests sparked by an extradition bill.
The gallery that organized the exhibition did not know if the government had ordered the work to be removed, Francesca Boffetti, CEO of Art Innovation Gallery, said in an email.
“Our intermediary told us that the owners of SOGO were concerned about the sensitive political content hidden behind Patrick’s work, so they decided to immediately remove the work from the exhibit,” Boffetti said.
No one mentioned any law or threatened them with fines, she added, but SOGO’s legal team asked the gallery if they were 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 has not contacted SOGO.
Amadon said the gallery told him in an urgent call that they were very concerned about his legal exposure after a conversation with SOGO.
Since the passing of the National Security Act, the city’s arts and media communities have learned to be wary of crossing vaguely defined red lines. The pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily was forced to close after authorities arrested its top editors and executives and charged them with foreign collusion. Some artists known for their political work have left Hong Kong in the shadow of the law. Some filmmakers have stopped showing their work in the city. Even those who produce non-political content have become cautious. But the government has insisted that its residents continue to enjoy the freedoms promised after the law was enacted.
Amadon said what happened to his work showed that the city had lost its freedom of expression and artistic freedom.
“It objectively shows that they are no longer here in the same way as they once were,” he said. “From a narrative standpoint, I mean, it had to be censored and taken down, I feel like, to be a finished play.”
Find more AP Asia-Pacific coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/asia-pacific