HK art museum faces censorship backlash

The opening of a contemporary art museum intended to match the likes of London’s Tate Modern and New York’s Museum of Modern Art has caused tension between Hong Kong cultural officials and artists, amid censorship fears stemming from a China-imposed national security law.

The multi-billion dollar M+ features contemporary work from leading Chinese, Asian, and Western artists including paintings, ceramics, videos, and installations from the likes of China's Zhang Xiaogang and Britain's Antony Gormley.

But the imposition of a sweeping national security law by China last year on its once freest city is casting a pall over the museum's opening, as curators and artists struggle to find a balance between artistic expression and political censorship.

Earlier this year, pro-Beijing politicians and media outlets criticized certain works in the M+ for breaching the national security law and inciting "hatred" against China.

One of the works being a photograph by Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei, giving the middle finger in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

Henry Tang is the head of the West Kowloon Cultural District, a new cultural hub that includes the M+.

Tang stressed all exhibits must "comply" with the national security law and that certain works in their collection, including Ai's contested photograph, wouldn't be displayed:

"In the past there were some controversies regarding whether some exhibits might be in violation of law. So therefore I want to emphasize that point first. In order to lay the foundation, that the opening of M+ does not mean that artistic expression is above the law. It is not."

Weiwei himself is critical of the implications on artistic expression these blurred lines may cause:

"The situation now (has) completely changed under the national security law. The museum is under - clearly under censorship."

"When you have a museum which cannot - or (is) incapable to defend its own integrity about freedom of speech, then that raises a question. And certainly, the museum cannot perform well in terms of contemporary culture. Because the very important character of contemporary art is in questioning authority."

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