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Pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong on June 12, 2019. Photo: Studio Incendo/Flickr.

Hong Kong Artists Risk Exile by Launching Pro-Democracy Platform

On June 12, the anniversary of a large-scale pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong, a group of artists, curators, and researchers from Germany, Hong Kong, Latvia, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom will launch “Silence is Compliance: 寧嗚而死, 不默而生,” a new online project. It aims to illustrate the mass demonstrations that have taken place in Hong Kong since the proposal of last year’s extradition bill, which has since been withdrawn, and to galvanize the international arts community to support the semiautonomous region as it faces a sweeping new national security law that will curtail Hong Kong’s political freedoms and civil liberties.

“When the act of remembering could be a sin, the freedoms of speech, expressions and publishing are severely threatened, this platform creates the precious space to send out the message once more, clear and loud, we stand with Hong Kong as artists, researchers, writers from different parts of the world, power to the people!” the project’s Facebook page reads. 

Spearheaded by the Young Blood Initiative, a collaborative platform that was founded by Candy Choi and that operates in Amsterdam, Berlin, and London; We Are HKers, a bilingual website run by a team of artists, journalists, photographers, and other cultural producers that was inspired by the project “Humans of New York”; and the Zine Coop, a publishing collective in Hong Kong, “Silence is Compliance: 寧嗚而死, 不默而生” was conceived as an evolving digital face of the leaderless pro-democracy movement. Works by more than ten artists, including Bettina Fung, Niccolo Masini, Boms, and Jaffe T, will be featured on the platform, which will kick off with a livestreamed performance by the Hong Kongese contemporary art duo Ghost and John.

“Hong Kong is at the forefront in the global fight against totalitarianism,” Choi, the founder of the Young Blood Initiative, told the Art Newspaper. Beijing’s move to further extend its influence on the region has been denounced internationally. Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state of the United States, declared that once the law, which bypassed Hong Kong’s legislature, is enacted, “no reasonable person can assert . . . that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China.” In response, President Donald Trump claimed he would revoke Hong Kong’s special trade status, and United Kingdom prime minister Boris Johnson pledged to welcome some three million people from Hong Kong and provide them with a path to citizenship should they wish to leave the region.

While the platform intends to present different angles of the social movement, Choi worries that those who volunteer to participate in “Silence is Compliance: 寧嗚而死, 不默而生” will not be able to return to Hong Kong once the new security law is in place. Passed by the National People’s Congress in Beijing on May 28, the legislation bans secession, subversion of state power, terrorism, and foreign intervention, and permits mainland China’s state security agencies to operate in the city. The National People’s Congress is currently drafting the law and is expected to finish by August.

“I told my aunt last week that I wanted to do this project,” Choi told the Art Newspaper. “She cried and asked me to be very careful. My parents accepted that I will not be able to go back to Hong Kong. They respected my decision [to do] this. They said next time, we could only meet in Taiwan.”

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