Hidden In Plain Sight: Censorship and Hong Kong Art Basel 2023 

It's safe to say when a large-scale public art display is silently removed during one of the most popular art fairs in the world, it doesn’t go unnoticed. Last month,  No Rioters, a large-scale digitized art installation by Los Angeles-based artist Patrick Amadon, was discreetly removed after its brief appearance during Hong Kong’s Art Basel week.

Patrick Amadon's No Rioters. Image courtesy of artist and Artnet News

As part of a group video installation called “The Sound of Pixels” presented by the Art Innovation Gallery of Milan, No Rioters supported several currently imprisoned pro-democracy activists. Only after the video went live did the artist reveal that the video obtained several embedded names of these pro-democracy activists. Once the media caught wind of the silent protest, the installation was prematurely taken off view without a statement, according to Vivienne Chow of Artnet News. Chow’s article continues to say that, “Amadon said he knew the work could be controversial, but added that its total censorship was unexpected. “I knew the protesters' names, ages, and sentences would be out of bounds. But it is art, and a few years ago this would have been an acceptable and legal expression,” the artist said.” And he’s right. With the recently enacted national security law vaguely banning acts of rebellion against the government, public art displays like this one are clearly not supported in Hong Kong. 

While there have been countless examples of art censorship over the last century, it is less common that art is censored as discreetly as this. Generally, censorship acts as an authoritative warning used to make a statement to the general public. This installation was so quietly taken down, it almost reminds me of the old saying, “If a tree falls in the forest with no ears to hear, does it make a sound?” What did this censorship really accomplish?

While the answer to this question remains unclear, it is certainly not the first, and unfortunately not the last form of censorship happening at this moment in this region of China. With political and social censorship on the rise, even beloved storybook characters like Winnie the Pooh are becoming banned in China. While this article briefly covered one instance of censorship as seen during Art Basel week, you can learn more about the current political state of censorship in Hong Kong by taking a look at the New York Times article “The 47 Pro-Democracy Figures in Hong Kong’s Largest National Security Trial” written by  K.K. Rebecca Lai, David Pierson, and Tiffany May.

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