Interview: ‘Don’t lose hope. The light will come,’ says China’s ‘Banksy’

Badiucao, a dissident artist, political cartoonist, and rights activist who lives in Australia, is known as the Chinese Banksy. the UK-based street artist and political activist, whose real name and identity have not been confirmed. Born in Shanghai in 1986, Badiucao studied law at a local university, but became disillusioned with China after watching a Tiananmen Square documentary in a dorm room. In 2009, he left the mainland to study in Australia. Badiucao, a pseudonym, has gained notoriety worldwide as well as the wrath of Beijing for his images of Hong Kong protesters protests and unflattering portrayals of Chinese Communist Party leaders, including current President Xi Jinping. One of Badiucao’s recent projects involves advocating for the Uyghurs, a persecuted Muslim ethnic minority group in northwestern China’s Xinjiang region. Reporter Nuriman Abdurashid of RFA’s Uyghur Service spoke with Badiucao on Wednesday about his latest artistic endeavor involving Uyghur human rights, athletic shoes, and the National Basketball Association (NBA). The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

RFA: Tell us about yourself.

Badiucao: My name is Badiucao. I am a China-born artist now living in Australia. My art is focusing on China’s human rights abuses and human rights fights around the world. This is a great opportunity. It’s a collaboration between me and the NBA star Enes Kanter. He learned about me from a mutual friend and he decided that I could be an ideal artist to collaborate with him on this project.

RFA: What is your recent collaboration with Enes Kanter, a Swiss player for the NBA’s Boston Celtics about?

Badiucao: We all know that it’s very important to find a platform which people in the West can relate to, and an NBA playground just provided this golden opportunity for me as an artist to convey the message via my art. So, this collaboration actually is something that I’m always after. So the NBA star Enes was wearing three pairs of shoes designed by me and painted by me, which had this very strong message advocating for the freedom of Tibetans, Uyghurs, and Chinese as well. So the project was actually initiated by the athletes. He found me by a mutual friend and discussed that he was planning to do an exhibition like a mini exhibition on his shoes while he played a game and he wanted the world to realize the genocide, the anti-humanity crimes against the Uyghurs in China. So the design of art is very much influenced by the reference that has been leaked from China, showing how Uyghurs, prisoners, or people in general are being subjected to this anti-humanity crime.

Obviously the East Turkistan flag is featured and the theme color of this flag is also featured within this artwork on the shoes. Last year, there was this footage leaked from China showing that people from the Uyghur community were being transferred from trains to possible concentration camps or prisons in China. And the footage is very hard to watch because it’s so brutal that we see dozens of Uyghur people being forced to sit on the ground, having their hands shackled in the back with a hood on their heads. So that very image is referenced within the design of the art on the shoes.

But I think it’s very important that beyond this harsh reality, we must see hope. We must see the fight in the future. So, I borrowed a very famous Superman-like comic image breaking free from shackles and chains and barbed wire, but I changed the Superman with a Uyghur flag that symbolizes the power of your community and symbolizes the hope of your community.

I also want to make this message very clear that we want to free the community from China’s oppression, and we want the world to know that there is genocide happening in China. led by the Chinese government, and that within this genocide and concentration camps there is systematic sexual harassment, rape, and forced labor in Uyghur communities across China, and many more crimes. So, that is the very reason for and the motivation behind this art.

uyghur-superman-art-sneaker-undated-photo.jpg
One of Badiucao’s creations features a Superman-like figure with the symbol of East Turkestan, the Uyghur homeland, on his chest, on the side of an athletic shoe, in an undated photo. Credit: Badiucao

RFA: What’s your message to other athletes and influencers?

Badiucao: First, I want to show my admiration for Enes Kanter for his very brave campaign, because he is actually risking a lot possibly including his career for advocating for the Uyghurs, for the Tibetans, for the Chinese people. That’s something quite unusual and rare in our world today. We see our celebrities, stars, sportsmen, pop stars all kneeling or kowtowing before Chinese markets, that all they’re thinking about is how they can get rich from this lucrative ‘cake,’ under the watch of the Chinese government, which limits their freedom of speech. And they choose to be complicit with this crime, which is quite shameful.

I do hope that with our campaign we’re sending a very clear message that as celebrities and as stars, there are much more important things than just making money or entertaining people. They have the power to influence, so they should also have a responsibility to uphold the most important values of humanity, to loudly call out abusers like the Chinese government.

I do think there’s a possibility for more of this type of campaign to come. As I said, if we manage to wake up more people and get more people to support this type of campaign, it would be great, because once upon a time, a lot of celebrities, including film stars and singers, really cared about human rights. They were advocating for the Tibetans in the 1970s and 1980s. But somehow because China has grown stronger and stronger, and used its economy to corrupt a lot of people’s mind and spirit and principles, I do hope that this can be changed soon.

RFA: What is your message for the Uyghurs?

Badiucao: I want to say that as a China-born artist that I’m truly sorry for you as a people and a culture that is going through this genocide, and I as a Chinese want to do more to help in the future with all my talent, art, and power. Please stay strong and keep the hope alive, because one day I’m certain that freedom will come back to the Uyghur community. And if by that time the Uyghur people want to have their own country, have their own community, I’ll truly support this movement as well. So, don’t lose hope. The light will come.

Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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