By a special correspondent in Brescia, Italy
Dissident Chinese-Australian artist Badiucao, sometimes called "The Chinese Banksy" for his prolific political cartoons highlighting Chinese repression, rights violations and abuse of power by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), kicks off his exhibition in Italy today (Nov 13), defying a Chinese Embassy request to cancel it.
The show, “La China (non) e vicina [China is (not) near],” an allusion to a famous Italian film in 1967, China Is Near, is scheduled to be held between November 13 and February 13, 2022 at the Museo di Santa Giulia in Brescia, a northern Italian city about 100 kilometres east of Milan.
The exhibition poster features a composite image of President Xi Jinping and Carrie Lam, Chief Executive of Hong Kong, satirizing the city's integration with the motherland.
The impressive large-scale exhibition showcases over 70 works by Badiucao, including paintings, cartoons, installations, hanging tapestries and neon signs. It is divided into five thematic sections.
The first section, “China”, features a series of masks created by the artist to hide his identity until finally deciding to reveal his face in reaction to threats and intimidation, and a documentary, China’s Artful Dissident, which reconstructs Badiucao’s journey around the world to interview fellow citizens exiled and witness to violation of human rights.
This section also includes some of his more recent works: a bed of 4,000 pencils sharp as needles (Dream), representing the artist-activist’s restless tormented sleep, an installation done with powdered milk denouncing the trade war being fought over the head of new-born babies (This is Why They Buy Our Baby Formula) and "a tiger’s chair" (Torture Chair), traditional means of torture transformed by the artist into an innocent rocking chair. China's role in the Covid-19 pandemic with Wuhan Diary and the portraits dedicated to the first victims in Wuhan including Dr Li Wenliang who first reported the outbreak of the virus.
The second section, Hong Kong, tells the recent political story of the ex-British colony which, in 1997, became Special Administrative Region under the rule of the People’s Republic of China, and focuses on the wave of protests sparked in 2019 by a proposed law foreseeing the extradition to continental China of anyone accused of a crime punished with more than 7 years of detention.
Badiucao actively took part in the protests, albeit from overseas, disseminating images and slogans, such as the desecrating Portrait of Carrie – Carrie Lam – and the Lennon Wall Flag composed of 96 coloured squares recalling the post-its attached by the people on the city walls with messages of dissent and Bricks, which transforms the red bricks used for barricades during the protests. They are displayed in the "Yellow Room" dedicated to the Hong Kong protesters.
Brescia mayor Emilio del Bono said he will not comply with a request from the Chinese embassy to cancel the show despite warning that diplomatic relations would be "endangered" if it is allowed to go ahead. The cartoonist's work is described as "full of anti-Chinese lies."
He said “it is important to show that you can stay friends while criticising some things.”
"I think it's pretty cool, because the Chinese government gave me some free publicity," Badiucao said. "Previously, this was just an exhibition in Italy, but now everyone in Europe and the world has heard about it too."
"Once again, Beijing has shot itself in the foot," he said.
This is not the first time that the Chinese government has targeted Badiucao.
In 2018, Hong Kong authorities shut down an event that would have included Badiucao's cartoons a day before it was due to open.
The exhibition, Gongle, was scheduled for 3 Nov. It was canceled after "threats made by the Chinese authorities relating to the artist," according to organizers Hong Kong Free Press, Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders.
Last September, Badiucao won the Vaclav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent for his political art exposing the lies of the Chinese regime and raising awareness of the struggle of the Hong Kong people.
The Italian Show, curated by Elettra Stamboulis, is his first international solo exhibition. Badiucao, who lives in Australia, characterizes himself on Twitter as a “Chinese-Aussie Artist hunted by CCP [Chinese Communist Party]”.