#BREAKING: World-renowned controversial Chinese political artist exhibits in USYD graffiti tunnel
WORDS BY JACINTA KEAST
Badiucao’s original artwork in the University of Sydney Graffiti Alley, 12th March 2018
Modifications to the artwork, Wednesday 14th April 2018
Artwork pasted over, Thursday 15th April 2018
On Sunday evening, China’s National People’s Congress voted to remove term limits for the People’s Republic of China. In response, one of China’s most famous political artists, Badiucao (巴丢草), a Chinese citizen who now lives and works in Australia, pasted up three pieces in the University of Sydney’s graffiti tunnel. By Wednesday 14th April, the pieces had been modified and by Thursday 15th April, the pieces had been graffitied over. Jacinta Keast interviewed Badiucao about his piece, the artistic environment in Australia for political artists and engaging in political art where reach is limited by internet censorship.
Pulp Media (PM): Could you tell us a little bit about your artwork in the graffiti tunnel? What prompted you to create this artwork?
Badiucao (BDC): The artwork is called Xi Forever. The work used three frames to illustrate three different stages of Xi Jinping – the current version, aging version and a skull with the same suit and hair style. I want to use the work to visualise the absurdity of Xi’s lifelong presidency. It is also a work for supporting the global campaign #我不同意 (I disagree). It is brave and inspiring for those Chinese students speaking up with their resistance. They deserve to be supported and heard by more
PM: What do you hope students at the University of Sydney will get out of your artwork?
BDC: I hope my work is showing support to those Chinese students who dare to criticise Xi Jinping and tell them they are not alone. I hope that most ‘silent Chinese students’ can have the guts to be as brave as those who are speaking up. I hope local and other international students will hear the voice of these brave Chinese students who don’t want to be brainwashed and intimidated by the Chinese government. Lastly, as a Chinese artist, I want to say that criticising the Chinese government and its ugly human rights is not racist and xenophobic. But the Chinese government will keep using racism as a shield to stop others from pointing out its tyranny. So, stay smart and don’t fall into this trap and produce another Tutor Wei Wu tragedy.
PM: Why is art important for dissent? Do you think that art has a responsibility to be political?
BDC: Every act of art is political. Art is powerful, and that power should come with responsibility. But unfortunately, most of the time art is used as propaganda or diminished as an alienated contemporary freak in modern galleries which only can be appreciated and worshipped by a group of arty narcissists. I think artists are obligated to address what is happening in this world. Any artist who denies this basic principle simply is not entitled to be one and any artwork that does not address reality or the human condition is pale, narcissistic and boring. Art is also one of the best ways to practice non-violent protest and resistance. Art is honest, humorous, beautiful, dynamic and inclusive - which works perfectly against hypocritical, dull, tasteless, rigid and xenophobic dictatorships like China. Art also works well with the media which helps spread ideas faster and smarter.
PM: You moved to Australia around 2010 from your native People’s Republic of China. How do you find the artistic and intellectual environment here in Australia for the sort of work you produce? Has the feedback generally been positive?
BDC: I think the general art environment is extremely boring, zombie-like and conservative in Australia. Most of the exhibitions are ‘art for the sake of art’ and pathetically most academies are teaching their students to do so as well. No wonder why Australia has policies that slowly murder refugees in offshore camps in Manus and Nauru and political parties like One Nation coming into power. One of the reasons is art doesn’t act on it enough. The only vivid and wonderful part of Australian art is the indigenous artists and their history and works rooted in reality. Given the over intimate relationship between China and Australia, my work is never fully appreciated in Australia, and my show in Adelaide was almost kicked out from the OzAsia festival.
PM: All art in the University of Sydney graffiti alley (and most other graffiti alleys) is by nature temporary – anyone can paste over an artwork, tear it down or modify it. In fact, by the afternoon of the 15th April, your piece had already been pasted over. How can installations that are so temporary like this actually connect with many people and enact change?
BDC: Although the nature of street art is so temporary, I have got your attention for this report, didn’t I? The image itself will keep its life on Instagram, Twitter and journalists like you will help continue delivering the story to more people as well, like in this ABC Hack article. And the reason behind it is any artwork is more than just a result on the wall or canvas – it is also the act of creating itself. The act is engaging with the physical site and political site. So even after the work has been covered, there is still value to discover and spread. But also, I am very curious as to why that street artist chose my piece to cover just one night after I created it. Is it pure bad luck for me or is there more to the story? This is an interesting question to ask.
PM: You’re commenting on the political system of China but residing in a Western country and posting on media platforms that are censored in China, like Twitter. Would you say then that the purpose of your art now is to raise awareness among Westerners of social and political issues in China? Or do you think that you are able to enlighten a considerable amount of Chinese within that censorship system who use VPNs to access your work?
BDC: Within the Great Firewall of China, it is very hard to get the information behind the iron curtain. But interesting and creative information is always contagious. With the help of netizens who use VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) and other methods, my work will still find its way to China just like what happened to my cartoon for Liu Xiaobo (see the New York Times article here, and the BBC article here). But also, my audience includes the overseas Chinese population and Western world as well. It is important for the world to truly understand where China is heading and prepare for it. Too many developed countries like Australia are blind to China’s dangerous political aggression and horrible human rights records for some short term economic profit. It is stupid, shameful and a betrayal of the values of freedom and democracy for these Western countries.
This interview was lightly edited for clarity and grammar.
Badiucao is a political artist born in China, who now lives and works in Australia and Germany. His work has been published by Amnesty International, Freedom House, BBC, CNN, China Digital Times and Hong Kong Free Press, and exhibited in Australia, America and Italy. You can view his portfolio at https://www.badiucao.com/ or on Twitter/Instagram at @badiucao
PULP is an independent outlet for student news and does not reflect the views of the USU