16 June 2023

Exhibition by provocative artist opens in Poland despite Chinese pressure

16 June 2023

An exhibition by a provocative Chinese artist that criticises the country’s human rights record has opened at a Polish state-run museum despite pressure from the Chinese embassy to cancel it.

The director of the Centre for Contemporary Art in Warsaw said the second-ranking diplomat at the Chinese embassy in Warsaw visited his museum demanding the cancellation of the exhibition by the artist, who goes by the name Badiucao.

“It wasn’t a request but a firm demand,” said museum director Piotr Bernatowicz, describing the Chinese government’s behaviour as unacceptable.

He said the Chinese official warned that having the exhibition could harm Polish-Chinese ties.

A Chinese representative also sent a letter of protest to Poland’s Culture Ministry.

Badiucao, who has lived in exile in Australia for many years, said the Chinese government accused him of hurting the feelings of Chinese patriots.

He insisted his works are in no way against the Chinese people or nation, merely against the government.

The exhibition is titled Tell China’s Story Well. Its promotional image shows President Xi Jinping eating human flesh. It also takes on other sensitive issues.

Among them are the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989, Hong Kong pro-democracy demonstrations quelled by China and what the museum is calling “the disturbing relationship between China and Russia in light of the war in Ukraine”.

In a performance for reporters ahead of the opening, Badiacao threw eggs filled with paint at a portrait of Mao Zedong in tribute to demonstrators who were arrested in the Tiananmen Square protests who did the same.

He described his performance as a continuation of their struggle.

“They should be celebrated as heroes instead of treated as prisoners or enemies of the state,” the artist, born in 1986, told The Associated Press.

The Chinese government has exerted pressure in the past in an attempt to censure Badiucao’s work.

An exhibition planned in Hong Kong in 2018 was called off at the last minute following threats to the artist and his family.

The Italian city of Brescia faced veiled economic threats by the Chinese government in 2021 but went ahead with an exhibition of his work.

The artist kept his identity secret for many years, wearing masks during public appearances to protect his family members.

The long-held secrecy drew comparisons to British graffiti artist Banksy, whose true identity remains shrouded in mystery.

The exhibition is due to run until October 15.

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