Danish Artist Tries to Reclaim Tiananmen Tribute From Hong Kong University

A Danish artist is trying to reclaim his sculpture commemorating the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, as a deadline issued for its removal from the University of Hong Kong campus passed on Wednesday.

Jens Galschiøt, whose nightmarish “Pillar of Shame” sculpture in copper featuring entwined, naked people crying out in anguish has stood on the HKU campus for 24 years, said he had hired a lawyer to write to the university after it insisted the sculpture be removed by the now-disbanded Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China.

The Alliance, many of whose leaders now face charges of “colluding with foreign powers” under a draconian national security law imposed on Hong Kong by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP), released details of a letter it had received from Chicago-based law firm Mayer Brown on the HKU’s behalf on Friday.

Galschiøt told RFA that he isn’t being given enough time to remove the sculpture, and that he wants to direct the process of dismantling and removal himself.

He said it was impossible to complete the job in such a short space of time, and that the sculpture was only on loan to the Alliance.

Mayer Brown’s letter demanded the removal of the “Pillar of Shame” by 5:00 p.m. local time on Wednesday, although no immediate action was taken as the deadline passed.

An attack on art

“We are still seeking legal advice and working with related parties to handle the matter in a legal and reasonable manner,” the university said in a statement quoted by Hong Kong government broadcaster RTHK.

“This sculpture is very important to Hong Kong. It is a symbol of June 4th,” Galschiøt told RFA. “It also represents the fact that while Hong Kong has become a part of China, Hong Kong people still have the right to remember their own stories and have the right to lay flowers at the monument to mourn those who died in 1989.”

He said the order to remove it was an attack on art, and on the memory of the June 4, 1989 massacre by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) that put an end to weeks of student-led pro-democracy protests and hunger strikes on Tiananmen Square and other Chinese cities.

Galschiøt told the AP that his lawyers have contacted the authorities at HKU in a bid to reach a settlement on the fate of the sculpture.

“Hong Kong has completely changed,” he told RFA. “Looking at the situation in Hong Kong from Europe feels very sad.”

“All the rights that China promised to the Hong Kong people have been taken away,” he said. “Now … they are transferring everything that is bad about [mainland] China to Hong Kong and suppressing freedom of speech.”

Galschiøt said he hoped for a better future for young people, and quoted the inscription on the Pillar of Shame: “Empires pass away but art persists. The old cannot kill the young forever.”

Civil society targeted

The 32-year-old Alliance stands accused of acting as the agent of a foreign power, with leaders Chow Hang-tung, Albert Ho, and Lee Cheuk-yan arrested on suspicion of “incitement to subvert state power,” and the group’s assets frozen.

The group is the latest in string of civil society groups to disband following investigation by national security police under the national security law that took effect from July 1, 2020.

China and the Hong Kong government have moved swiftly to erase the large gap between the CCP-ruled mainland and the former British colony in civil and political rights, as well as media and academic freedom.

The annual Tiananmen vigils the Alliance hosted on June 4 often attracted more than 100,000 people, but the gatherings have been banned since 2020, with the authorities citing coronavirus restrictions.

China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office says the Alliance incited hostility and hatred against the CCP and the central government.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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