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The Fight for Artistic Freedom and preservation of Hong Kong culture

This blog is authored by Loretta Lau, Director of NGO DEI.

The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) government has a clear policy objective to create the illusion that Hong Kong is still a "secure" and "harmonious" city. The vast amounts of money being thrown at this illusion has serious implications for freedom of expression and the future of artistic creativity in our beloved city.


Since the 2019 protests, the central government has been on overdrive to erase our local identity as Hongkongers. You can see this in their moves to replace Cantonese with Mandarin and demolish iconic structures like the Queen’s Pier and monuments like the Pillar of Shame and the Lady Liberty.


The Hong Kong government's budget choices have always baffled me. Instead of tackling pressing issues like housing, healthcare, and education, they prefer to spend lavishly on campaigns that paint a picture of stability and unity. The glossy facade they create is a stark contrast to the underlying social and political tensions, making their priorities crystal clear—and totally misplaced.


A prime example of this is Create Hong Kong (CreateHK), an office under the Culture, Sports, and Tourism Bureau (CSTB) meant to boost the creative economy. Now rebranded as the Cultural and Creative Industries Development Agency (CCIDAHK), they’re hiring top executives with salaries up to $123,980 per month!


Art has always had the power to change society. History shows us how regimes, like the Nazis, used art to propagate their ideologies. Even hybrid regimes like the Chinese Communist Party understand this power all too well. They invest heavily in producing art that aligns with their narrative while ruthlessly suppressing pro-democracy art. They know that art can inspire, mobilise, and create a sense of identity and purpose among people.


The most disturbing part of this agenda is the suppression of dissenting voices within our artistic community. The crackdown on artists who express perspectives contrary to the official narrative has created a chilling effect on free expression. Many talented individuals have faced censorship, harassment, and even exile. This exodus of creative talent is a profound loss, not just for Hong Kong, but for global artistic diversity.


Under the guise of promoting a "Creative Hong Kong," the SAR government has paradoxically stifled true creativity. Their version of creativity is confined to state-sanctioned narratives that glorify governmental achievements and suppress critical thought.


It's essential for artists to realise that the government uses substantial financial resources to shape the narrative. If artists become too dependent on government support, they risk being co-opted into serving as tools of government propaganda.


Despite financial and political pressures, these courageous individuals continue to create and share art that reflects the genuine experiences and sentiments of Hong Kong's people. Their work is a powerful reminder of the resilience of the human spirit and the indispensable role of freedom in fostering authentic artistic expression.


In a bold move to amplify our message and foster global solidarity, Art and Culture Hong Kong hosted the inaugural "ImagiNation: Hong Kong in Exile" symposium in The Hague in May 2024. The symposium revolved around three themes: "Preserving Identity," "Artistic Activism," and "Cultural Reshaping," which focus on the past, present, and future of Hong Kong's cultural landscape.


By promoting interdisciplinary dialogue and emphasising the significance of shaping Hong Kong's narrative, the symposium seeks to illuminate the resilience and creativity of Hong Kong's overseas diaspora. Scholars, advocates, and artists delve deeply into the ongoing changes, aiming to construct a future for the displaced people of Hong Kong.


The "ImagiNation: Hong Kong in Exile" Symposium gathered over 100 artists, scholars, and activists from around the world. This event showcased the power of international solidarity and provided a vital platform for sharing experiences, strategies, and support. The overwhelming response and participation highlighted the global concern for Hong Kong's artistic and cultural future and reinforced our commitment to continuing this crucial dialogue.

Opening speech of the "ImagiNation: Hong Kong in Exile" Symposium in The Hague by Loretta Lau, the director of NGO DEI (Photo Credit: NGO DEI)


The international community has a crucial role to play in supporting these artists and amplifying their voices. By providing platforms for their work, we can help counteract the oppressive measures of the Hong Kong SAR government. It is imperative that we recognise and challenge efforts to undermine artistic freedom and support those who courageously speak truth to power.


The Hong Kong SAR government's investment in reinforcing a narrative of security and harmony is a thin veneer over deeper societal rifts and an oppressive cultural regime. True harmony cannot be achieved through censorship and suppression. Instead, it is through the free exchange of ideas and the unbridled creativity of artists that a genuinely harmonious society can emerge. As Art and Culture Hong Kong continues to demonstrate, the pursuit of true art and the fight for freedom are inseparable. The "ImagiNation: Hong Kong in Exile" symposium is a testament to the enduring spirit of Hong Kong's artistic community and our commitment to truth and freedom.

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