China tried to shut down dissident artist Badiucao’s show in Prague. It only made him more famous

Despite calls from Beijing to shut down an exhibition of works by Chinese dissident artist Badiucao, Prague’s DOX Contemporary Art Center still staged the politically charged exhibition.

Titled “MADe in China,” the exhibition is a follow-up to Badiucao’s previous solo show in Brescia, Italy, which Beijing also tried to cancel last year. It chronicles the artist’s criticism of China’s political oppression, including censorship of citizens during the Covid-19 pandemic, the government’s alleged human rights abuses against the Uyghur population of Xinjiang, and the 2019 protests in Hong Kong.

Badiucao at the opening of his exhibition “MADe in China” at DOX Prague. Courtesy of DOX Center for Contemporary Art, Prague. Photo: Jan Slavík, © DOX.

The exhibition also features new works created in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, including a painting that merges the faces of Chinese President Xi Jinping and his ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin. China has previously said its relationship with Russia has “no limits” and has supported Russia throughout its invasion of Ukraine.

On Wednesday, the day before the exhibition opened, DOX received a call from the Chinese Embassy in Prague, ordering them to cancel the exhibition.

“The Embassy” hoped that we would not hold “the exhibition, which would harm the mutual relations between the two countries,” a DOX spokesperson told Artnet News.

But DOX did not back down. “We are proud to present the work of Badiucao. DOX is a private and independent institution, an environment where we value our intellectual freedoms. We will certainly not respond to this or any other pressure, which we consider completely unacceptable,” said Michaela Šilpochová, artistic director of DOX and one of the curators of the exhibition.

Installation by Badiucaos inspired by roadblocks built by protesters during the 2019 Hong Kong protests. Courtesy of DOX Prague.

The installation of Badiucao cobble stone, inspired by the roadblocks built by protesters during the 2019 Hong Kong protests. Courtesy DOX Center for Contemporary Art, Prague. Photo: Jan Slavík, © DOX.

Badiucao, who is in Prague for the opening, said the Chinese embassy called not only DOX but also the Czech government, as he learned from Jan Lipavský, the Czech foreign minister who attended opening Thursday evening.

The Czech Republic is known for its vocal criticism of China, and Prague has established close ties with autonomous Taiwan, which the minister said has been “bullied” by China. The event also brought together representatives from other countries, including the United States and Japan.

The artist, who only bears his pseudonym, is originally from Shanghai and previously worked in Ai Weiwei’s studio in Berlin. His often provocative cartoons and political illustrations quickly offended Xi’s regime. He was supposed to have his first solo exhibition in Hong Kong in 2018, but it was abruptly canceled after police took his relatives to China at a police station.

Installation view of the exhibition "Made in China." Courtesy of DOX in Prague.

Installation view of the “MADe in China” exhibition. Courtesy of DOX Center for Contemporary Art, Prague
Photo: Jan Slavík, © DOX.

“They improved the game by talking to adults,” Badiucao said of China’s latest efforts. “I’m just a troublemaker. They talk to the troublemaker’s host.

He believed that any attempt to silence others outside of China — an act of foreign interference constantly denounced by China itself — would only further motivate those who defend free speech.

Rather than succeed in shutting down shows, China’s threats have made Badiucao more famous internationally. The artist said he was getting more invitations to show in Europe and the United States than before.

“[Beijing’s threats] doesn’t do much for them, but it did a lot for me and for the exhibition,” the artist said.

“MADe in China” runs until August 28.

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Berta D. Wells