Chinese dissident artist defies Beijing in Italian show

Chinese dissident artist Badiucao, 35, denounces political repression in China and the country’s censorship of coronavirus in his new exhibition, just opened in northern Italy

Exhibiting a torture instrument as an innocent rocking chair, Chinese dissident artist Badiucao mocks the propaganda of Beijing in a new show — while appropriating its codes.

Defying calls from the Chinese government to cancel it, the northern Italian city of Brescia is hosting the first international solo exhibition by the 35-year-old artist and exile from China who lives in Australia.

But the city stood its ground.

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Brescia, known for its Roman ruins, has a long tradition of welcoming dissidents, painters and writers, in the “defence of artistic freedom”, she said.

The new show, “China is (not) near — works of a dissident artist”, which opened Friday, denounces political repression in China and the country’s censorship of the origins of the coronavirus, two explosive subjects for Beijing.

In an interview with AFP, Badiucao — who has been called “the Chinese Banksy” — said he was “very happy and proud” that the city “had the courage to say ‘no’ to China to defend fundamental rights.”

“I want to use my art to expose the lies, to expose the problems of the Chinese government, to criticise the Chinese government, however on the other hand it’s also celebrating the Chinese people, for how brave Chinese people are… even when they have been subjected to this very harsh environment with an authoritarian government,” Badiucao said, speaking in English.

“The national security police went to intimidate my family in Shanghai,” he said, adding they threatened to “send officers” to the opening if the exhibit were held.

The Chinese Communist Party “thinks that all free artists are its enemies, that’s why it hates me so much,” said Badiucao, who added that he receives “daily death threats” on social media.

He decided to dedicate himself to art, moving to Australia in 2009 and only revealing his identity publically on its 30th anniversary a decade later.

The exhibition also pays tribute to “Tank Man”, the unknown man wearing a white shirt and carrying two plastic shopping bags who stood up to advancing tanks.

– Sidestepping censors –

The dissident said there is no doubt Beijing is responsible for the pandemic, alleging that it failed to heed warnings over the coronavirus’ first appearance in Wuhan in late 2019.

In showing these works, she added, “we support freedom of expression”.

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