On November 12, Hong Kong inaugurates the M+, a contemporary art museum that aims to put the city on the world cultural map. This opening takes place in a tense political context with Beijing, which is increasingly imposing its national security law on the former British colony.
The M+ is a multi-billion dollar project. It symbolises Hong Kong’s ambition in the field of contemporary art, as well as its desire to rival museums such as the Tate Modern in London, the MoMA in New York and the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Contemporary artworks by Chinese, Asian and even Western artists will be on display.
The wait is over. The countdown has finished. Today, we welcome you to M+, Asia’s first global museum of contemporary visual culture.
Reserve your entry in advance: https://t.co/xktJNmfSZn
— M+ (@mplusmuseum) November 12, 2021
The opening of M+ also has a strong political dimension. Since the 2019 protests, China has imposed its law on Hong Kong. The National Security Law has led to the arrest of many democratic activists and opponents of the Beijing regime. This law also casts its shadow over artistic expression, which is very political. Conservatives and artists are already fighting against what looks like political censorship.
Earlier this year, pro-Beijing politicians and media launched a campaign of denigration and criticism of certain works. A photograph of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei giving the middle finger in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square was accused of violating the National Security Law and inciting “hatred” against China.
“The opening of M+ does not mean that artistic expression should be above the law,” Henry Tang, director of the West Kowloon Cultural District, the new cultural hub that includes M+, told reporters at the opening.
Tang also stressed that all exhibitions must “comply” with the National Security Act and that some works would not be displayed. “I have no doubt that MoMA in New York probably has artworks in its archives that would not be exhibited today because it would not be politically acceptable in today’s environment,” he said.
This episode marks the decline of Hong Kong’s once vibrant art scene. Intense repression of democratic and civil society activists has forced many artists into exile. Kacey Wong is one of them, and now lives in Taiwan to practice his art, although two of his works will be shown at M+. According to him, there is a form of artistic self-censorship that has been increasing for several years. The National Security Law is just another step for Beijing in bringing Hong Kong into line.
“The museum is clearly under censorship,” commented Ai Weiwei from Cambridge where he is now based. “When you have a museum that cannot or is unable to defend its own integrity in terms of freedom of expression, it raises a question. The museum cannot function well in terms of contemporary culture.”
“A museum can be, of course, a celebratory platform for the arts,” said Wong from Taiwan. “But it can also be a tool for the authorities to bury art forever.”
Featured Photo : © Ideat
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