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The West Kowloon Waterfront Promenade in Hong Kong’s cultural district. Photo: Baycrest/Wikipedia Commons.
The West Kowloon Waterfront Promenade in Hong Kong’s cultural district. Photo: Baycrest/Wikipedia Commons.

Government Places Hong Kong Arts Sector Under Scrutiny

After Suhanya Raffel, executive director of M+ museum, told press on March 12 that the museum would not shrink from presenting work relating to historical events such as the 1989 pro-democracy Tiananmen Square protests, or that by artists who have expressed dissent in regard to government policy, such as Ai Weiwei, Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam on March 17 warned that the government would be “on full alert” in regard to threats to national security posed by the arts, ArtAsiaPacific reports. Lam did not elaborate as to what threats might be expected but said only that she was certain museum staff would recognize “what is freedom of expression and whether certain pieces are meant to incite hatred.”

Also on March 17, the state-owned newspaper Ta Kung Pao published an article alleging that the Hong Kong Arts Development Council (HKADC), the region’s major public arts funding body, funneled $1.9 million to projects that Ta Kung Pao says violate China’s national security law. Among the denounced recipients of the funding were the Ying E Chi Cinema collective, whose members the newspaper branded “yellow” purveyors of “black violence” for distributing the anonymously produced film Inside the Red Brick Wall (2020), about the 2019 protests at Polytechnic University. The HKADC issued a statement in response to the article, contending that all organizations and individuals who receive funding agree to be in “compliance with the laws of Hong Kong during the grant period.”

The ramping-up of government scrutiny and the increased and ominous references to the National Security Law, which went into effect in Hong Kong this past June, come just days after M+ announced that its new building in the city’s West Kowloon Cultural District is complete and on track to open by year-end. Lam had promised that the law would not affect the freedoms of Hong Kong citizens, and that it would only be used in a “handful” of instances; however, since its passing, more than one hundred activists and opposition politicians have been arrested by the government; the most recent detainees included forty-seven organizers of a primary election for opposition candidates to Hong Kong’s legislative council.