• Around 100 arts organisations, including commercial art galleries, will suspend operations in protest at proposed changes to Hong Kong extradition law
• Gallery at high-profile Tai Kwun arts centre to stop selling tickets on the door, as artist union says exhibition guides told management they would join strike
Around 100 Hong Kong arts organisations, including commercial galleries, have signed up to a suspension of operations on Wednesday in protest against the city government’s proposed changes to extradition law, as lawmakers begin a series of votes on the measure.
In addition, many individuals are going on strike at galleries, art schools and cultural institutions. While no major public institution has joined in the protest, their operations are likely to be affected as many staff simply won’t show up for work.
On Tuesday, the Tai Kwun centre for heritage and arts in Central district announced its JC Contemporary gallery would operate with limited capacity on Wednesday and that no tickets would be available for sale at the door for its exhibition of work by leading Japanese artist Takashi Murakami.
According to the Hong Kong Artist Union, exhibition guides at the gallery wrote to Tobias Berger, head of arts at the historic compound and asked that it close in protest at the government’s move. Staff are expected to join the strike action.
Artists and cultural workers have been among the most vocal critics of the draft law, which will allow for the transfer of fugitives to jurisdictions with which Hong Kong has not signed an extradition agreement, including mainland China, where protesters say courts are not independent and suspects’ human rights will not be respected.
Artist Wong Ka-ying, one of the conveners of the union, said there had been overwhelming support for the call to action among its 337 members, even though few of Hong Kong’s 20 publicly funded cultural bodies, such as the M+ museum of visual culture and the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, had responded to its open letter appealing for solidarity.
A number of commercial galleries are joining the call to close their doors, including about half of the galleries in the Pedder Building in Central, among them Lehmann Maupin, after Ben Brown Fine Art took the lead. Elsewhere, Gallery Exit in Aberdeen, and the Karin Weber Gallery and Galerie Ora-Ora in Central are closing. Pace, one of the biggest art dealers in the world, has told staff they are free to join the strike action.
1a Space, an independent art collective based in the Cattle Depot Artists’ Village in To Kwa Wan, Kowloon, said it would close for the day, and new-media non-profit Videotage, also based there, said it had told staff they were free to go on strike.
The union asked all institutions to allow their staff to go on strike or work flexible hours. Para Site, another non-profit art space in Quarry Bay, will also close.
The Hong Kong Arts Centre, which is close to the Legislative Council building where protesters will gather on Wednesday, told the Post it would stay open but is lending its support to the protest by allowing demonstrators to use its water dispensers and power points from 8am-11pm. It has also told staff they can take strike action.
Members of the executive council of Pen Hong Kong, which represents the rights of writers, announced that they would go on hunger strike for 24 hours in protest.
Hong Kong’s cultural sector still enjoys a large degree of freedom, guaranteed by China when the former British colony was handed over in 1997. However, the disappearance of five Hong Kong booksellers – two of them from the city itself – in 2015 and their subsequent detention in China, and self-censorship by arts venues, has prompted growing concerns about the sector’s future.
Many artists have taken part in recent protests against the extradition bill, and huge banners were hung during the June 9 march against it outside the Foo Tak Building on the protest route in Wan Chai, where many artists have studios.