Beijing has tried to close the international art exhibition of this artist. This is how he and a small Italian town fought

The Italian city of Brescia has opened a solo exhibition of the work of the Chinese-Australian dissident artist Badiucao Saturday, despite protests from Beijing.

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

The embassy demanded the cancellation of the show, titled “China is (not) nearby,” To Santa Giulia Museum. Going forward with the exhibition would affect friendly relations between the two countries, the embassy threatened.

“The letter was very intimidating. He was not expressing the concerns of the Chinese government. It was a direct commission to the museum demanding that the show be canceled, ”Badiucao told Artnet News.

Chinese dissident artist Badiucao (C), with the mayor of Brescia, Emilio Del Bono (2ndL), vice-mayor of Brescis, Laura Castelletti (3rdR), president of the Fondazione Brescia Musei, Francesca Bazoli (4thR), cuts the ribbon during the opening of an exhibition of his works on November 12, 2021 entitled “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 has suffered backlash from the government for his work criticizing human rights abuses in China in the past, was not surprised by the response. “This is my daily routine. Every time I do something, the Chinese government will try to stop it,” Badiucao said.

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

Brescia has “always defended freedom of expression and will continue to do so,” the mayor told the New York Times. “Art should never be censored. “

“I am very happy that the local government and the museum have stood firm to defend freedom of expression,” Badiucao said. “They showed their solidarity with me.”

Former assistant to Ai Weiwei who now lives in Australia, Badiucao was to have his first solo exhibition in 2018, in Hong Kong. Two members of the Russian arts activist group Pussy Riot participated in a pro-democracy panel to accompany the exhibition, but the exhibition was canceled. (Some of these works are now on display in Brescia.)

Chinese dissident artist Badiucao poses next to his work titled "Watch, 2021" November 12, 2021 at the exhibition "China is (not) near - works by a dissident artist", opening at the Santa Giulia museum in Brescia, in Lombardy.  Photo by Piero Cruciatti / AFP via Getty Images.

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

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

“China is (not) close”, which was originally scheduled to open last year, follows the museum’s 2019 exhibition of works by Kurdish artist Zehra Doğan made during his three years of work. incarceration in a Turkish prison. The Badiucao show is part of the Brescia Peace Festival (until November 26).

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

The artist believes the power of the growing Chinese market has discouraged institutional venues from engaging in his work.

“Authoritarian governments always try 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 up narratives on behalf of Chinese government interests, 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 happening in China to the rest of the world – they are really afraid of the power of art. . “

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

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

The Brescia Museum exhibition was the first opportunity for Badiucao to showcase his work beyond the political cartoons and other illustrations he has long shared on social media. The works in the exhibition include 64 paintings made with his own blood from a watch the Chinese government gave to soldiers who helped quell the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.

When one of the 90 watches, which are rarely seen in public, were auctioned in the UK last year, Badiucao protested the sale, which he said presented evidence of a massacre as that luxury product. It was eventually canceled and Badiucao was able to acquire another watch as a gift, using it to create this set of works.

Other pieces include sculptures of Molotov cocktails made from soy sauce bottles and paintings depicting Winnie the Pooh, used in China as a mocking reference to President Xi Jinping. Badiucao also hosts performances during the show, reading the diary of a Wuhan resident, written during the initial wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, as he sat on a torture throne he purchased online. .

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

“Why do we make art? He asked. “Is it to be famous or rich, or is it because we believe in art as something that can support humanity and protect us from oppression? “

“China Is (Not) Nearby” is on view at the Museo di Santa Giulia, Via dei Musei, 81, 25121 Brescia BS, Italy, from November 13, 2021 to February 13, 2022.

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