China + North Korea
AI WEIWEI, Study of Perspective: Tian’anmen (1997)
Part of the censored works from the Uli Sigg Collection
In mainland China as in North Korea, spaces for expression, artistic or not, no longer exist and it takes an almost suicidal courage to dare to use the public space, even for just a moment, to manifest some kind of dissidence. And when this is nevertheless the case and the incident is relayed by social networks (when these exist), these are cleaned up by government services in a few hours or even a few minutes. Objects of censorship are never promulgated except in vague terms. This makes it possible to enact adaptive bans and thus react immediately to current events: MeToo, Covid, pollution, poverty, scandals, corruption, gender, Western, Japanese or South Korean content... Any material considered a threat for the ruling party is prohibited, and that includes, of course, controversial art.
Through their work, artists can be accused of damaging the country's reputation, disseminating Western values, corrupting youth, promoting immoral behavior. Under these circumstances, many of the artists who had the opportunity left the country, like Ai Weiwei in 2015, after his stay in prison in 2011, followed by a 4-year passport deprivation. But even when they find refuge in the West, contemporary Chinese artists are not immune to the actions of their former masters. Thus China tried in 2022 to close the exhibition of exiled artist Badiucao at the DOX Center for Contemporary Art in Prague, Czech Republic, after having also tried the year before to close his previous exhibition at Brecia's Municipal Museum in Italy. Infinitely closer to mainland China, in Hong Kong, the two-system one country myth has lived on, and artistic expression is no exception to the new iron order imposed by Xi. In 2021 the works commemorating the Tiananmen Square massacre were dismantled and taken away from the Island's public spaces, and, in the case of the work Pillar of Shame by Danish artist Jens Galschiot, in defiance of all propriety rights : on the night of December 22 to 23, 2021 the giant sculpture which is still the property of its author, has simply vanished.
CENSORS: M+ MUSEUM, Hong Kong, China
The same type of cleaning has also been done in the island's museums. Thus the emblematic M+ museum, which should have symbolize the cultural openness of Hong Kong, has seen its collections physically and electronically cleansed of many politically engaged works : even before the opening of the museum on September 12, 2021 between two closures linked to the he Covid epidemic, certain works from the huge collection of Chinese contemporary art donated to the museum in 2012 by the Swiss collector Uli Sigg, and which constitutes the main collection of the museum, were already no longer accessible online. Among others, several works by Kacey Wong, another Chinese artist in exile, and Ai Weiwei had disappeared, including his famous photograph Study of Perspective: Tian'anmen (1997) where the artist photographed himself giving the middle finger in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. On the occasion of the reopening of the museum on April 21, 2022, three other committed works from this collection had then disappeared from the walls of the museum while remaining this time accessible online: New Beijing (2001) by Wang Xingwei, Press Conference III (1996) by Zhou Tiehai, and Mao Zedong: Red Grid No. 2 (1989) by Wang Guangyi.