Hong Kong opens new modern art museum under national security cloud

HONG KONG, Nov. 11 (Reuters) – A senior Hong Kong cultural official said on Thursday that free speech was not above a national security law imposed by China, on the eve of the opening of a contemporary art museum intended to put the city on the world cultural map.

The multibillion-dollar M +, which features contemporary art by leading Chinese, Asian and Western artists, is Hong Kong’s desire to compete with museums like Tate Modern in London, MoMA in New York and the Center Pompidou in Paris.

But China’s imposition of a sweeping national security law last year on its once-freest city casts a veil on openness, as conservatives and artists struggle to strike a balance between artistic expression and political censorship.

Earlier this year, pro-Beijing politicians and media criticized some M + works for violating national security law and inciting “hatred” against China, including a photograph by dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei , making a middle finger in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

“Opening M + does not mean artistic expression is above the law. It is not,” Henry Tang, director of the West Kowloon Cultural District, a new cultural center which includes the M +.

Tang stressed that all exhibits had to “comply” with the National Security Law and that some works in their collection, including Ai’s disputed photograph, would not be exhibited.

“I have no doubt that MoMA New York probably has artwork in its archives that would not be on display today because it would not be politically acceptable in today’s environment,” Tang said.

A view inside the “M +” Visual Culture Museum in Hong Kong, China. November 11, 2021. REUTERS / Tyrone Siu

Read more

The M + Museum’s collection includes paintings, ceramics, videos and installations by artists such as Chinese Zhang Xiaogang and Briton Antony Gormley. A Wang Xingwei track of a man in Beijing pedaling a bicycle cart loaded with two dead penguins, echoes the Tiananmen killings in 1989.

One of Ai’s installations, “Whitewash”, is also on display, featuring ancient Chinese terracotta jars.

Despite this, Ai remained critical.

“The museum is clearly under censorship,” Ai told Reuters by telephone from Cambridge where he is now based.

“When you have a museum that cannot or is unable to uphold its own integrity when it comes to freedom of expression, that raises a question. And certainly the museum cannot function well in terms of contemporary culture,” he said. -he declares.

Kacey Wong, an artist from Hong Kong who moved to Taiwan to escape intense political repression that saw democracy activists jailed and civil society crushed, says he was forced to leave to keep his “critical blade” “artistic.

Two of his works are exhibited in the M +, including “Paddling Home”, an artistic installation of a boat with an integrated “micro-house”. A white naval officer’s uniform he once wore now hangs next to it, serving as a metaphor for his exile, he said.

“A museum can, of course, be a platform for celebration of the arts,” Wong told Reuters from Taiwan. “But it can also be a tool for the authorities to bury art forever.”

Additional reports by Aleksander Solum; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Comments are closed.