Beijing tried to close this artist’s international art exhibition. So he and a small Italian town fought back


The Italian city of Brescia opened a solo exhibition with works by Chinese-Australian dissident artists Badiucao on Saturday despite protests from Beijing.

The Chinese Embassy in Rome last month sent an email to the Mayor of Brescia, Emilio Del Bono, claiming that the exhibition was “full of anti-Chinese lies” and that the works of art “distort the facts, divulge false information and mislead the understanding of the Italian people ”. and seriously hurt the feelings of the Chinese people, ”said the Giornale di Brescia.

The embassy called for the cancellation of the show with the title “China is (not) nearby,” at Museo di Santa Giulia. The embassy threatened that if the exhibition continued, the friendly relations between the two countries would be impaired.

“The letter was very intimidating. It did not express the concern of the Chinese government. It was a direct instruction to the museum calling for the exhibition to be canceled, ”Badiucao told Artnet News.

The Chinese dissident artist Badiucao (C) with the Mayor of Brescia, Emilio Del Bono (2nd L), the Vice Mayor of Brescis, Laura Castelletti (3rd R), the President of the Fondazione Brescia Musei, Francesca Bazoli (4th R), cuts the ribbon for the opening of an exhibition of his works of art on November 12, 2021 with the title “China is (not) near – works of a dissident artist” at the Santa Giulia Museum in Brescia, Lombardy. Photo by Piero Cruciatti / AFP via Getty Images.

The artist, who was rejected by the government for criticizing Chinese human rights violations in the past, was not surprised by the response. “It’s my daily routine. Every time I do something, the Chinese government will try to stop it,” Badiucao said.

But he was surprised by the reaction from the city of Brescia. The city and the Brescia Musei Foundation, which runs the institution, refused to censor the artist’s work.

Brescia has “always advocated freedom of expression and would continue to do so,” said the mayor New York Times. “Art should never be blamed.”

“I am very happy that the local government and the museum have defended freedom of expression,” said Badiucao. “You have shown your solidarity with me.”

Badiucao, a former assistant to Ai Weiwei who now lives in Australia, was due to have his first solo exhibition in Hong Kong in 2018. Two members of the Russian art activist group Pussy Riot took part in a pro-democracy panel to accompany the exhibition, but the exhibition was canceled. (Some of these works can now be seen in Brescia.)

The Chinese dissident artist Badiucao poses next to his work of art with the title "Watch, 2021" on November 12th, 2021 in the exhibition "China is (not) close - works by a dissenting artist", Opening at the Museum Santa Giulia in Brescia, Lombardy.  Photo by Piero Cruciatti / AFP via Getty Images.

The Chinese dissident artist Badiucao poses next to his work of art entitled “Watch, 2021” on November 12, 2021 at the exhibition “China is (not) near – works of a dissident artist” in the Museum Santa Giulia in Brescia, Lombardy , is opened. Photo by Piero Cruciatti / AFP via Getty Images.

At that time the artist was still working anonymously. In 2019, Badiucao revealed his face in the documentary China’s artful dissident.

“China Is (Not) Near”, which was originally supposed to open last year, follows the museum’s 2019 exhibition with works by Kurdish artist Zehra Doğan, which was created during her three-year imprisonment in a Turkish prison. The Badiucao show is part of the Brescia Peace Festival (until November 26th).

“The aim of the festival is to promote human rights, freedom of expression and peace,” said Badiucao. “The biggest inspiration for me is the human rights violations in China.”

The artist believes that the power of the growing Chinese market has deterred institutional bodies from engaging in his work.

“Authoritarian governments are always trying to control artists,” Badiucao said. “The Chinese government is using the art market as a tool to stop artists like me.”

“I think many Chinese artists are shamefully acting as pawns for Beijing, serving narratives on behalf of the Chinese government’s interests and promoting the soft power of the Chinese Communist Party,” he added. “The Chinese government is concerned that more artists will follow the path of great artists like Ai Weiwei and try to convey our own ideas about what is going on in China to the rest of the world – they are really afraid of power the art.” .”

A visitor takes photos of

A visitor takes photos of “Winnie the Trophies, 2017”, a work of art by Chinese dissident artist Badiucao in the Santa Giulia Museum in Brescia, Lombardy. Photo by Piero Cruciatti / AFP via Getty Images.

The museum exhibition in Brescia was Badiucao’s first opportunity to showcase work beyond the political caricatures and other illustrations he has long shared on social media. Works in the exhibition include 64 paintings painted with his own blood by a clock that the Chinese government donated to soldiers who helped quell the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.

When one of the 90 seldom seen in public watches was auctioned in Britain last year, Badiucao protested the sale, which he believed was viewed as evidence of a massacre as a luxury item. It was eventually canceled and Badiucao was able to purchase another of the watches as a gift to use to create this movement.

Other pieces include sculptures of Molotov cocktails, instead made from soy sauce bottles, and paintings of Winnie the Pooh, used in China as a mocking nod to President Xi Jinping. Badiucao also stages appearances during the show and reads from a diary of a Wuhan resident written during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic while sitting on a torture throne purchased online.

The artist expects further harassment from the Chinese government – Chinese nationalists have already disrupted a lecture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna. But for Badiucao the risk inherent in his art is worth it.

“Why are we making art?” He asked. “Is it famous or being rich, or is it because we believe in art as something that can sustain humanity and protect us from oppression?”

“China Is (Not) Near” can be seen from November 13, 2021 to February 13, 2022 at the Museo di Santa Giulia, Via dei Musei, 81, 25121 Brescia BS, Italy.

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