University Of Hong Kong Wants To Remove A Sculpture Commemorating Tiananmen; To Preserve It, People Have Crowdsourced A Digital 3D Replica
from the pillar-of-shame dept
As Techdirt has chronicled, the political situation in Hong Kong becomes worse by the day, as the big panda in Beijing embraces a region whose particular freedoms were supposed to be guaranteed for another 25 years at least. One manifestation of the increasing authoritarianism in Hong Kong is growing censorship. The latest battle is over a sculpture commemorating pro-democracy protesters killed during China’s 1989 crackdown in Tiananmen Square, and on display in the University of Hong Kong. South China Morning Post reports:
The eight-metre-high Pillar of Shame by Jens Galschiøt was first erected at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) in Pok Fu Lam in 1997, and according to the sculptor was on permanent loan to the group that organised the annual candlelight vigil commemorating the pro-democracy activists killed by the military in Beijing on June 4, 1989.
But after the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China decided to disband in August amid a national security investigation, HKU management informed the group it had until Wednesday 5pm [on 13 October] to remove the 2 tonne artwork or else it would be deemed abandoned. The university said the move was based on its assessment of legal risks in light of the alliance’s dissolution.
The formal letter ordering the sculpture to be removed warned that:
If you fail to remove the Sculpture before 5:00 pm on 13 October 2021, the Sculpture will be deemed abandoned and the University will not consider any future request from you in respect of the Sculpture, and the University will deal with the Sculpture in such time and in such manner as it thinks fit without further notice.
That seems a clear threat to remove or even destroy the Pillar of Shame directly. The sculptor, who says the work still belongs to him, points out that moving it is hardly easy, and has threatened legal action if it is damaged:
“It will take a long time to move the sculpture,” he warned. “It is an extremely valuable piece of art, which after 24 years probably is a bit frail. Therefore there is a great possibility that the work of art will suffer irreparable damage if handled by any others than experts in handling art.
“If, contrary to expectations, damage to the sculpture should occur, the university risks incurring a claim of compensation for that damage.”
Galschiøt has also asked Danish politicians to help him get the sculpture out of Hong Kong, and has formally requested the University of Hong Kong to review its decision. These latest developments seem to have caused HKU to pause its plans: according to the South China Morning Post, it has said that it will take no action for the moment, and that it needed more time to consider its next move. However, some have decided to act now to ensure that the Pillar of Shame continues to exist in some form, whatever happens. Sophie Mak, whose Twitter bio describes her as “monitoring human rights abuses in Hong Kong and elsewhere”: tweeted:
Dear Hong Kong friends, help us preserve the Pillar of Shame by sending over any pictures you’ve taken of it to PillarOfShamePics@protonmail.com! We need pictures taken from as many different angles as possible to make our digital 3D replica model.
That was on October 12. The next day, a tweet from Nathan Ruser wrote of the digital 3D replica: “Thanks to some really helpful submissions this is starting to look a heck of a lot better!” The replica is already good enough to ensure that the Chinese government would be annoyed if copies started appearing outside their embassies around the world. It offers a useful example of how others can respond when the authorities want to make inconvenient objects disappear from public view.