China has made yet another attempt to shut down Chinese dissident artist Badiucao’s upcoming exhibition in Europe. And again, the show will go on, with the host institution calling for the public’s support instead of caving in to Beijing’s pressure.
The exhibition in question this time is “Tell China’s Story Well,” scheduled to open on June 16 at the Ujazdowski Castle, Center for Contemporary Art (CCA Ujazdowski Castle) in Warsaw, Poland. The show is Badiucao’s institutional debut in Poland; the artist and the curatorial team have been busy installing the show this past week.
The exhibition, which draws its title from President Xi Jinping’s proposition for external propaganda when he first came to power in 2013, will feature about 70 works including many new pieces, ranging from paintings and drawings to sound and neon installations. The politically charged show revolves around the ongoing themes in the artist’s practice, such as the allegations of China’s suppression of free speech and abuse of human rights through the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, the 2019 Hong Kong protests, the Chinese citizens’ revolt against Covid lockdowns, forced cultural assimilation of the Uyghurs, as well as China’s relationship with Russia amid the ongoing war in Ukraine.
The show was announced on June 6. Hours after the announcement and promotional posters went live, a senior official from the Chinese embassy in Warsaw paid a visit to the museum to protest the exhibition and demand that it be cancelled, Artnet News learned.
“We would like to express our concern and astonishment at the actions of the Chinese Embassy in Warsaw towards CCA Ujazdowski Castle, which have been carried out for several days and whose aim is to stop the exhibition,” CCA Ujazdowski Castle said in a statement released June 9.
The museum confirmed the Chinese embassy’s visit to the museum. The Ministry of Culture and National Heritage has also received letters “demanding censorial interference” in the Warsaw art center’s program. China has further blocked the institution’s website, the museum said.
CCA Ujazdowski Castle is not backing down, saying that “we strongly oppose” China’s action, which it interpreted as “acts of preventive censorship.”
“We urge all committed to free speech and expression to support us and the artist in resisting this pressure by visiting the upcoming exhibition and by writing letters of support to the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage,” the institution said.
Poland used to have a close economic and political relationship with China, which turned sour after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as Poland has been a major support of Kyiv. The institution’s strong response to the Chinese government’s action and vow to defend free speech contradicts a report published last year by the Artistic Freedom Initiative, which suggested that artists and culture workers in the country have been facing more pressure under the right-wing populist government.
“This is not the first time the Chinese government has tried to kill my exhibition,” Badiucao told Artnet News. In 2021, when the artist had his first major exhibition in Europe, China attempted to shut it down but it failed. Last year, Beijing tried to cancel the artist’s exhibition at DOX Center for Contemporary Art in Prague, but the show went ahead as planned. The Index of Censorship last year compiled a report on how the long arm of Chinese censorship has reached Europe.
The artist, originally from Shanghai and formerly an assistant at Ai Weiwei’s studio in Berlin, said that the Chinese government’s actions have backfired and instead, helped to promote his shows, as long as the museums involved did not succumb to the pressure. But he remained concerned that in the long-run, Beijing’s ongoing actions will mean that any gallery, museum, or institution hosting him will have to experience the same kind of “bullying and intimidation.”
Badiucao called Beijing’s “wolf warrior” tactics “barbaric” and “not acceptable.” “This is not normal diplomatic language,” the artist said. “This is not just an attempt to strip away my rights to freedom of expression. It is also clear interference in the affairs of foreign countries.”
“But this just shows how little the Chinese government respects freedom of speech or appreciates the very essence of art, which is about breaking the limitations and telling the truth about our world and our reality,” he added.
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