Hong Kong Art Week: Pro-protest billboard art removed as ‘it contained political messages,’ says gallery

A digital artist who hid the names, ages and jail terms of convicted Hong Kong protesters in a SOGO mall video billboard installation says organisers have been forced to remove it.

Art Innovation Gallery displayed No Rioters, by Patrick Amadon, on a 70 x 20 metre LED screen in Causeway Bay as part of a 2023 Art Week installation entitled The Sound of Pixels. Launched last Friday, it was originally set to run until Thursday, but was removed prematurely.

“No Rioters” dominates Causeway Bay in Hong Kong during 2023 Art Week. Photo: Patrick Amadon, via Twitter.

A spokesperson for Art Innovation Gallery said they did not know who was behind the decision to remove the artwork: “We would like to point out that we don’t know if it was government intervention. Patrick’s work was removed because it contained political messages. The communication that Patrick’s work was taken off display came to us from our mediator. Our mediator informed us that the decision was made by the owners of SOGO. We have no other information about this.”

Amadon told HKFP that there were legal concerns and the threat of fines: “It was explained that SOGO was threatened with ‘heavy fines’ and legal liability. Which follows it was from a third party. SOGO and Art Innovation got their lawyers involved. Art Innovation needed me to write a paragraph to help them with their exposure in which I would explain that this work was done without their knowledge and that they were tricked by me into displaying the hidden messages.”

However, the gallery told AP that no potential fines or legal issues were discussed.

Amadon – based in Los Angeles – told HKFP that he believed momentary flashes of pro-protest graffiti, and the details of detained protesters, would go unnoticed after he was invited to submit the work. The red and black, glitchy video installation – which includes a panning surveillance camera – was one of several works displayed on the side of SOGO department store. It has received criticism in the pro-Beijing press.

SOGO did not respond to HKFP’s enquiries.

Photo: Patrick Amadon.

The name of Amadon’s work appeared to refer to one of the 2019 pro-democracy movement’s five demands. During the months-long unrest, demonstrators called on authorities to drop their characterisation of protesters as “rioters.” Those convicted of rioting may face up to a decade behind bars.

Amadon told HKFP that – during Art Week – he wanted to express solidarity with Hongkongers, who were “doomed to fail against the resources of the government, yet so many protest[ed] and fought back anyway.”

When asked if he had legal concerns, Amadon said: “I am not in Hong Kong right now. No real concern for me thankfully.”

Protests erupted in June 2019 over a since-axed extradition bill. They escalated into sometimes violent displays of dissent against police behaviour, amid calls for democracy and anger over Beijing’s encroachment. Demonstrators demanded an independent probe into the police conduct, amnesty for those arrested and a halt to the characterisation of protests as “riots.” 

Over 10,200 people were arrested in connection with the unrest.

HKFP has contacted the police for comment.

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