Patrick Amadon’s “No Rioters” was showcased on a billboard at the SOGO Causeway Bay Store for an exhibition that kicked off last Friday as the city promoted its return as a vibrant cultural hub after years of pandemic travel restrictions. Art Basel Hong Kong, a prominent art fair in Asia, kicked off this week along with other art events.
Hong Kong is a former British colony that returned to China’s rule in 1997, pledging to maintain its Western freedoms. The city was rocked by a massive pro-democracy protest movement in 2019, which ended after China imposed a “National Security Law” that criminalized many dissent. The city’s government has since jailed and silenced many activists.
Amadon said he had been following the protests in Hong Kong closely and that his work aimed to show solidarity with the protesters and remind people of the city’s new reality.
“It was too much to watch Art Week in Hong Kong as if the Chinese government didn’t tear down a democracy and turn Hong Kong into a vassal surveillance state…because it’s a convenient location for a good market,” says the in Los Angeles based artist said.
Amadon said he knew the work would be controversial and was surprised it had been on public display for days. It contained a panning security camera.
Flashes of Matrix-esque text showed the names and jail terms of convicted activists and other prominent figures in the pro-democracy movement, including lawyer Benny Tai and former student leader Joshua Wong, both of whom were charged with subversion in the largest case under the National Security Act. .
These details were shown too quickly for the naked eye to see, Amadon said, but viewers could see the details if they used a camera to take pictures. It also referred to Gwyneth Ho, a journalist turned activist, who was attacked when she live-streamed a mob attack in July 2019 during the mass protests provoked by an extradition bill.
Francesca Boffetti, CEO of Art Innovation Gallery, said in an email that the gallery hosting the exhibition did not know if the government had ordered the work removed.
“Our agent told us that the owners of SOGO were concerned about the sensitive political content hidden behind Patrick’s work, so they decided to immediately remove the work from the exhibition,” said Boffetti.
No one cited a law or threatened them with fines, she added, but SOGO’s legal team asked the gallery if it was aware of the content and message of Amadon’s work.
Local police and SOGO did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Bureau of Culture, Sports and Tourism told the Associated Press it has not contacted SOGO.
Amadon said the gallery told him in an urgent appeal that after talking to SOGO it was very concerned about its legal exposure.
Since the passage of the National Security Act, the city’s arts and media communities have learned to be wary of crossing vaguely defined red lines. The pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily was forced to close after authorities arrested and charged its top editors and executives with foreign conspiracy charges. Some artists known for their political work left Hong Kong in the shadow of the law. Some filmmakers no longer show their work in the city. Even those producing non-political content have become cautious. But the government insisted that its citizens would continue to enjoy the freedoms promised after the law came into effect.
Amadon said what happened to his work showed that the city had lost its freedom of expression and artistic freedom.
“This objectively shows that they’re not here anymore in the same way they used to be,” he said. “From a narrative point of view, I mean, it had to be censored and removed, I feel, to be a finished piece.”
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