Artists fear censorship as China tightens grip on Hong Kong

Hong Kong: in order to tighten control over Hong Kong and purge dissent, Beijing may pressure a new museum in the city to remove exhibits that displease China in the opening exhibition. 

Newly built on Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour, M+ Museum aims to rival Western contemporary heavyweights such as London’s Tate Modern and New York’s MoMA.

The 60,000 square-metre venue is set to open later this year after multiple delays. 

Pro-Beijing Hong Kong leader Carries Lam has told officials to be “extra cautious” in ensuring exhibitions at the new art museum do not breach the city’s sweeping national security law. The remarks have prompted fresh fears over censorship in the territory, CNN reported. 

Asked by pro-Beijing lawmaker Eunice Yung whether the long-awaited M+ museum risked “inciting hatred” towards China with some of its artworks, Lam told Hong Kong’s Legislative Council that she recognized concerns that the institution’s exhibits may cross an unspecified “red line.

She added that her government respects the “freedom of artistic and cultural expression,” but said that since the enactment of the national security legislation — which criminalizes acts of secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces — “all Hong Kong compatriots are required to safeguard national security.”

Lam’s comments come just days after M+ director Suhanya Raffel said she would be free to show politically sensitive works, including those by Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei.

China last year passed a controversial Hong Kong national security law to curb dissent in the city. So far, several opposition figures and pro-democracy activists have been detained under the act. 

According to CNN, the act is now being used for the virtual disappearance of protest art. 

For artist Kacey Wong, once a regular fixture at Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests, the legislation’s ambiguous wording leaves it open to abuse by authorities.

“(Carrie Lam’s) so-called ‘red line’ is so flexible that it’s open for the government or its agents to use it to prosecute anybody they don’t like,” Wong said in a phone interview.

“Hong Kong is going through this cultural politicization process right now,” he added. “It’s kind of like what Ai Weiwei (said), that ‘everything is art, everything is politics.”

Just this week, the screening of a documentary about the Hong Kong protests, “Inside the Red Brick Wall,” was reportedly pulled by a local movie theater.