Gao Brothers Under Pressure

It stems from a satirical sculpture they made of late Chinese leader Mao Zedong.
2011-08-12
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Satirical sculptures of Mao Zedong with big breasts and a long nose, part of Chinese contemporary artwork by the Gao brothers.
HEMIS.FR

While the Chinese authorities have released artist and social critic Ai Weiwei from 80 days' detention over alleged tax evasion, they are stepping up pressure on other prominent members of an artists' community in Beijing.

In July, officials visited the 798 Art Village in Beijing and ordered the owners of a tree-house cafe and an artists' studio to close down, according to one of them, Gao Shen.

"I didn't know about this, but lot of people came from lots of different government department to inspect every aspect [of the cafe]," artist Gao Shen said. "This was a total inspection of everything."

He said the officials had told him and his brother to close down the cafe and the studio, but gave no specific reason.

Gao runs the cafe and studio alongside his brother, and links the move by officials as a political reaction to a satirical sculpture the brothers made of former supreme Communist Party leader Mao Zedong.

The polished stainless steel sculpture titled "Miss Mao trying to poise herself at the top of Lenin's head," portrays the aging leader with signature receding hairline and facial mole, sporting a large pair of naked breasts.

The Miss Mao element sits atop a large and grotesque head of Lenin, balancing with a tightrope walking pole.

The Gao Brothers’ dissident artwork has been shown overseas, but not publicly displayed in China since they signed an open letter from dissident physicist Fang Lizhi to then supreme leader Deng Xiaoping during the pro-democracy movement of 1989.

Travel ban

The brothers were banned from overseas travel until 2003. Their tree-house cafe is a popular attraction at the artists' village, with an exhibition of the Gao Brothers' work on the ground floor.

The super-sized Miss Mao sculpture was shown at the Vancouver Biennale festival in 2010, and was widely seen as a dissident work, satirizing orthodox communism and the official Chinese view of history.

Chinese artists had also felt growing political pressure in the run-up to the 90th anniversary of the ruling Chinese Communist Party on July 1, sources said.

Beijing police recently detained 13 young artists, including Hua Yong, Guo Zhenming, Jiang Renyan and Xiao Shengjie ahead of a planned art installation in Jiaxing city, Zhejiang province to coincide with the anniversary.

"After they got rounded up by police, they called us," said a friend of the artists, Lin Bing. "They said they were all being escorted back to their hometowns."

"It'll be a while before they can come back to Beijing, I expect."

Chinese authorities often send dissidents and activists back to the town where they grew up, even if they have established lives in other cities.

While the move isn't recorded as an arrest or a formal detention, it is powerfully disruptive for those to whom it happens, and is regularly used as a means of control.

Surveillance

Another artist, identified only by his surname Li, said Hua Yong was currently under close police surveillance at his family home in northeast China.

Ai has indicated that he is still under considerable restrictions at his Beijing home following his release from detention pending trial for "tax evasion," declining to give media interviews.

Chinese officials have warned that Ai is still under investigation and is banned from leaving his "area of residence."

While rights activists welcomed Ai's release in June, after 80 days of detention, they said the manner of his detention was arbitrary and part of a broader campaign to silence dissent.

Ai was named recently by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

His detention drew criticism from the United States, Australia, Britain, France, and Germany, as well as from Amnesty International and other international rights groups.

Reported by Hai Nan for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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