Hu Jiamin working on his mural Timed Discrepancy, 2017, at the Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture in Shenzhen. Photo: Cao Yuxue.

Chinese Authorities Detain Artist over Mural Painted for Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture  

Brady Ng reports at ArtAsiaPacific that a mural by the artist Hu Jiamin, created on-site for the Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture in Shenzhen, China, has been covered up by local authorities and that the artist and his wife have also been in police custody since Saturday after they were removed by law enforcement from the exhibition’s main venue on Friday. Time Discrepancy, 2017, which the police have launched an investigation into regarding its display in the biennial, depicts an empty blue chair in the foreground of a room that also features a traditional Chinese landscape that appears behind red prison bars. Painted near the main venue’s entrance by the artist and his wife, Marine Brossard, the chair was intended to be in memory of 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese dissident who was first detained in December 2008 and later sentenced to eleven years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power.” The chair references the fact that, due to Liu’s incarceration, he was unable to travel to Oslo to accept the honor and was instead represented at the official award ceremony by an empty chair placed on stage. Liu passed away on July 13 this summer from liver cancer at a heavily guarded hospital in Shenyang.

The biennial opened Friday, December 15, and while security personnel apparently did not interrupt Hu and Brossard when they were painting the mural—and when asked about the work, the artist spoke of the subject matter freely—that night plainclothes police covered the mural with a large banner printed with an introduction to the exhibition and removed the artists from the premises. Hu Jiamin is a Chinese-born artist who holds French citizenship, and while it is still unclear whether the organizers were aware of the mural’s contents before Hu executed the work, those in charge of commissioning the project are also being questioned by authorities. Other political elements of the mural, besides the reference to Liu Xiaobo, could have also triggered the police’s retaliation, such as the security cameras that are painted in the corners of the room and the inclusion of Mao Zedong’s rallying cry, “Serve the People,” painted as faded text.

The Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture is on view at multiple venues in Shenzhen through March 17, 2018.