Hong Kong pavilion at Venice Biennale closes amid extradition bill protests
- According to a photo posted on Facebook, the exhibition ‘Shirley Tse: Stakeholders, Hong Kong in Venice’ will be closed today
- Around 100 arts organisations, including commercial art galleries, have suspended operations in protest at proposed changes to Hong Kong extradition law
According to a photo posted on Facebook by Christina Li, guest curator of artist Shirley Tse’s exhibition at the pavilion, a notice in English and Italian at the entrance reads: “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.”
“Shirley and I respect people’s right to strike,” Li told the Post by phone. “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.”
Hong Kong’s participation in the world’s most prestigious contemporary art biennial is co-organised by the government’s Arts Development Council and M+, the museum under construction at the West Kowloon Cultural District.
Around 100 Hong Kong arts organisations, including commercial galleries, signed up to call a strike on Wednesday as lawmakers were expected to begin a series of votes on the extradition measure. Those proceedings have been postponed as protesters and the police clash outside the legislature.
According to the Hong Kong Artist Union, exhibition guides at the gallery wrote to Tobias Berger, head of arts at the historic compound, and asked that the gallery be closed on Wednesday. Guides were expected to join strike action.
Artists and cultural workers have been among the most vocal critics of the draft law, which will allow for the transfer of fugitives to jurisdictions with which Hong Kong has not signed an extradition agreement, including mainland China, where protesters say courts are not independent and suspects’ human rights will not be respected.
Artist Wong Ka-ying, one of the conveners of the union, said there had been overwhelming support for the call to action among its 337 members, even though few of Hong Kong’s 20 publicly funded cultural bodies, such as the M+ museum of visual culture and the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, had responded to its open letter appealing for solidarity.
A number of commercial galleries joined the call to close their doors, including about half of the galleries in the Pedder Building in Central, among them Lehmann Maupin and Simon Lee, after Ben Brown Fine Art took the lead. Elsewhere, Gallery Exit in Aberdeen, and the Karin Weber Gallery and Galerie Ora-Ora in Central, closed. Pace, one of the biggest art dealers in the world, told staff they are free to join the strike action.
1a Space, an independent art collective based in the Cattle Depot Artists’ Village in To Kwa Wan, Kowloon, said it would close for the day, and new-media non-profit Videotage, also based there, said it had told staff they were free to go on strike.
The union asked all institutions to allow their staff to go on strike or work flexible hours. Para Site and the Asia Art Archive were also closed.
The Hong Kong Arts Centre, which is close to the Legislative Council building where protesters will gather on Wednesday, told the Post it would stay open but is lending its support to the protest by allowing demonstrators to use its water dispensers and power points from 8am to 11pm. It has also told staff they can take strike action.
Members of the executive council of Pen Hong Kong, which represents the rights of writers, announced that they would go on hunger strike for 24 hours in protest.
Hong Kong’s cultural sector still enjoys a large degree of freedom, guaranteed by China when the former British colony was handed over in 1997. However, the disappearance of five Hong Kong booksellers – two of them from the city itself – in 2015 and their subsequent detention in China, and self-censorship by arts venues, has prompted growing concerns about the sector’s future.
Many artists have taken part in recent protests against the extradition bill, and huge banners were hung during the June 9 march against it outside the Foo Tak Building on the protest route in Wan Chai, where many artists have studios.