New exhibition mocking Chinese leader Xi Jinping opens in Italy

  • Chinese dissident artist Badiucao mocks the propaganda of communist Beijing in a new show.
  • New show denounces political repression in China and Chinese censorship of the origins of the COVID-19 virus.
  • Ahead of the show’s premiere, China urged Italian officials not to let the exhibition go ahead.

In a museum in Brescia in northern Italy last Saturday, Art exhibition “China is (not) near” by the dissident artist from Shanghai, Badiucao, opened in a museum in Brescia in northern Italy.

It is already rumored that this exhibition could lead to a major diplomatic scandal.

The dissident artist is famous for his works that criticize China’s human rights record, and this exhibition is no exception.

One of artist’s works, which depicts Chinese President Xi Jinping on Winnie the Pooh, has already angered Chinese officials. Four years ago, the Disney character fell into disgrace with Chinese authorities and Chinese social networks began to urgently delete pictures of Disney’s Winnie the Pooh, because he looks like Xi Jinping.

The artist also paid tribute to the Chinese doctor from Wuhan Li Wenliang, who was the first to report the coronavirus outbreak by depicting policemen chasing protesters. And on one of the mock posters for the upcoming Winter Olympics, the artist shows a biathlete pointing a rifle at a blindfolded Uyghur prisoner.

Chinese officials tried to put pressure on the city to cancel the event — but organizers went ahead anyway in a bid to ‘support freedom of expression.’

In an official letter to the Mayor of Brescia, the People’s Republic of China’s Embassy in Rome stated that the artwork “is full of anti-Chinese lies” and that they “distort the facts, spread false information, mislead Italians and seriously offend the feelings of the Chinese people.”

City officials and museum curators, however, pressed forward with the plans for the show.

“I had to read this letter twice because it surprised me,” recalls Deputy Mayor of Brescia Laura Castelletti, calling it an “encroachment” on creative freedom. The request to cancel the exhibit, she adds, only “got more attention.”

“Because my art is always focusing on human rights issues in China … it makes me almost the type of No. 1 enemy,” Badiucao told reporters.

“Anyone who tried to tell the truth or some story different from China’s government’s narrative would be punished,” Badiucao said.

“So that is why, for me, it is really hard to actually having an exhibition in an established gallery, a museum like this,” he added.

One of the more provocative works is a hybrid portrait of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam — highlighting the decline of rights in the former British colony.

There is also a series of 64 paintings of watches that the artist created with his own blood. The work references the watches given to Chinese soldiers who took part in the brutal Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.

The exhibition also includes a torture device that has been re-designed as a rocking chair. For the first few days of the exhibit, Badiucao will sit in the torture chair and read from a diary that was sent to him by a resident in Wuhan. The work details 100 days of records from the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic.

Badiucao rose to prominence in 2011 after posting cartoons on Sina Weibo of China’s handling of a high-speed train crash in Wenzhou. The images have been censored several times, although the artist is now an Australian citizen, the country’s authorities continue to attack him. In 2018, a planned exhibition of his work in Hong Kong was canceled due to “security reasons”. The organizers explained this decision by “threats from the Chinese authorities”, and later the artist said that his family members in China were threatened.

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