Censors monkey with China art show before 18th Party Congress

Fri Sep 7, 2012 10:44am EDT
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By John Ruwitch

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - The pot-bellied official in a tan golf shirt paused in front of a poster-sized image for a few seconds, asked a member of his entourage to make a note of it, then continued to lead the group on its awkward march through the Shanghai Exhibition Center.

A few hours later, the digitally manipulated photo of China's legendary Monkey King facing Tiananmen Gate, by Beijing-based artist Chi Peng, was pulled from the wall, one of several works at the SH Contemporary Art Fair deemed unfit for display by Shanghai's culture police.

Censorship of political content has long been a feature of the Chinese art world under Communist Party rule, but gallery owners and artists at SH Contemporary were told on Thursday that city officials were being extra careful ahead of a once-a-decade leadership transition set to take place in Beijing next month.

"It's especially sensitive this year because the 18th Party Congress will start soon," said a fair organizer after trying to convince another booth to remove a painting that censors didn't like because it appeared to include images of Mao Zedong.

The last-minute removal of art works, some of which had passed initial vetting for the fair, underscores the party's reach and the pressures building in the political system ahead of the secretive conclave that will anoint new leaders.

To participants at the art fair, though, it was met mostly with rolled eyes and the sense that, to some extent, the ham-fisted effort was backfiring.

Chi Peng's Monkey King photo, with a massive gorilla and a wall of grey smoke coming from inside the Forbidden City, had passed vetting in Beijing for a show in May and was initially approved for the SH Contemporary.

On Thursday, though, the officials had apparently changed their mind and wanted it gone.   Continued...

A portion of an art piece from artist Bi Xin which is deemed unfit for display by members of the cultural bureau is pictured prior the inauguration of the SH Contemporary Art Fair at the Shanghai Exhibition Center September 6, 2012. REUTERS/Stringer