China’s art scene muzzled by authorities

hinese performance artist Huang Wenya smashes objects as he performs his piece “Aftersound” at the OPEN international performance art festival in the Songzhuang art colony outside Beijing. Source: Reuters

THE annual OPEN international performance art festival, held in a secret venue in Beijing out of sight of China’s increasingly active censors, was a relatively tame and quiet affair this year.

According to Reuters, only 15 acts performed at the long-running festival which drew an audience of just 40 people, many of whom were artists and staff.

Festival organizer Chen Jin said that the reason for low numbers were a lack of publicity leading up to the event, as he was concerned about police raids. Furthermore, the festival was ahead of a major Communist Party congress.

“Performance art is the freest art form. It doesn’t have any rules, and this might have scared [authorities] the most,” Chen said. He added that last year’s edition had to be canceled halfway due to repeated police raids.

In its golden era in 2009, the festival had an eight-week run and drew in more than 300 Chinese and foreign artists. But backlash from censors and authorities has waned publicity and turnout over the years.

Other forms of art too are facing the axe under President Xi Jinping’s Communist Party rule. In 2014, Xi urged all artists to “carry forward the banner of socialist core values”.

SEE ALSO: Singapore’s Yayoi Kusama art show is boosting arrivals

The President added that artists should “use real-life images to tell people what should be confirmed and applauded, and what must be opposed and denied”.

In 2015, an art exhibition on feminism in Beijing was banned, and the year before, the 11th Beijing Independent Film Festival was shut down on its opening day.

SEE ALSO: New museum in Jakarta paints picture of hope for regional art

China has seen its fair share of dissident artists who are silenced in their home countries but celebrated overseas. One of them is Ai Wei Wei – whose work spans everything from sculpture to architecture – renowned internationally for delving into sensitive topics in China including civil rights and disillusioned coal miners.

Other significant Chinese performance artists in the last two decades include Zhu Yu, whose act featured him biting into a stillborn human baby, and Ma Liuming, whose explicit explorations into sexual identity ran counter to a ban on public nudity.

Additional reporting by Reuters.