The Hong Kong pavilion at the Venice Biennale has suspended its activities to protest against Hong Kong’s extradition law. Christina Li, who curated the pavilion exhibition of Shirley Tse’s work at the biennale, published a photo of a notice in Italian and English on Facebook:
“Due to unforeseen circumstances, the exhibition ‘Shirley Tse: Stakeholders, Hong Kong in Venice’ will be closed on June 12, 2019. Please excuse us for the inconvenience.”
Li also told the South China Morning Post by phone, “Shirley and I respect people’s right to strike… We asked the three staff on duty at the pavilion and it became clear that we won’t have the manpower to keep the pavilion open today.”
Artists are among the most outspoken defenders of human rights in Hong Kong. Many fear that the extradition bill, which will allow Hong Kong to detain and transfer people wanted in countries and territories with which it has no formal extradition agreements (including Taiwan and the Chinese mainland), will severely undermine the freedom of the former British colony.
On homeground, more than 100 arts institutions, including commercial galleries such as Lehmann Maupin, Simon Lee, Ben Brown Fine Arts, Gallery Exit and Karin Weber Gallery, joined the call to close their doors. The Hong Kong Artists Union published an open letter that said:
“… the bill, if passed, risk [s] seriously eroding the freedom of expression on which the work of artists and cultural workers of all disciplines depend. It also undermines the city’s reputation and credibility as an international art hub where ideas flow freely.”
Chinese artist and social activist Ai Weiwei has also weighed in on Hong Kong’s protest, who spoke with CNN on Wednesday. Ai mentioned that the protests are ‘absolutely necessary’ in order for the people of Hong Kong to hash out some form of justice.
“It's Hong Kong's people, young people mostly, defending their rights and this has to happen," Ai told CNN's Kristie Lu Stout.
More than a million protestors took to the streets on June 10 to express their discontentment but despite wide public criticism, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam insisted that the amendment will uphold justice, protect human rights and fulfil the island’s international obligations.
Hong Kong’s pavilion at the Venice Biennale is co-organised by the government’s Arts Development Council and M+, a museum under construction at the West Kowloon Cultural District.
Four Malaysian artists – Anurendra Jegadeva, Ivan Lam, H H Lim and Zulkifli Yusoff – also exhibited at the first ever Malaysian pavilion at the biennale this year. Gallerist Lim Wei-Ling and associate curator, Gowri Balasegaram, put together the overall ideology for the national pavilion, titled Holding Up a Mirror.