Brescia rejects China’s request to cancel dissident art show

Badiucao in front of a poster for his Brescia exhibition

 BRESCIA - Mayor Emilio Del Bono with the support of his council, has stood up to Chinese pressure to cancel an exhibition by dissident artist Badiucao, local media revealed.

 Journalists from Il Giornale di Brescia saw a letter from the cultural division of the Chinese embassy addressed to the Brescia council, which alleged Badiucao’s works “are full of anti-Chinese lies.”

 “They distort facts, spread false information, mislead the Italian people and seriously hurt the feelings of the Chinese people, which may endanger friendly relations between China and Italy.”

 The letter concluded by expressing “strong dissatisfaction” with the exhibition and asked the council “to act quickly to cancel the above mentioned activities.”

 Badiucao, who lives in Australia, heavily criticised the Chinese government for their handling of the Covid-19 crisis and on his Twitter account he calls himself a “Chinese-Aussie Artist hunted by Chinese Communist Party.”

 Rossella Prestini, head of the press office of the Municipality of Brescia, confirmed in an interview with Artribune that the exhibition will not be cancelled. She said, as of Oct. 22 “we have not yet received a response from them. We understand that in the logic of China this can be a serious fact, but we believe that it is not serious enough to question relations with Brescia and Italy.”

 “In our country, political satire and criticism are free, so we intend to apply the current rules. This is not an attack on China or an act of rupture, but simply the desire to represent a plurality of voices through artistic expression.”

 The mayor has said the Badiucao exhibition will be the flagship event of the town’s Festival of Peace (now in its fourth year, running from Nov. 12 to 26) and symbolises a ‘passing of the baton’ on from last year’s large solo exhibition by Turkish artist Zehra Dogan, also a dissident.

 Del Bono and the President of the Brescia Museum Foundation, Francesca Bazoli, replied in writing to the request, saying, “works by a dissident artist are part of understanding contemporary art as a strong and symbolic form of expression of human suffering and freedom of thought.”

 They highlighted that "we think that the purpose of art is to challenge, but at the same time we believe that this will not affect the relationship between the two nations.”

 It concluded, "we are therefore sure that your cultural office will understand how this project is dedicated to contemporary art in its correlation with freedom of expression and does not intend in any way to question the important objectives of dialogue and friendly relations between our countries."

 The show is titled ‘China is not near’ and will be open from Nov. 13 until Feb. 13. in the Santa Giulia Museum. The artist, sometimes referred to as ‘Chinese Banksy’ due to his popular, subversive style, announced on Twitter that it will be his “very first international solo exhibition.”

 Badiucao’s works are often characterized by billboards in public places or pop illustrations, in which he uses the style of Chinese propaganda to ridicule his government’s authority and denounce their abuses. His political satire has also touched on other themes, such as the inequities of capitalism and multinationals, China's relations with Merkel or Trump, riots in Afghanistan and police violence.