Clashes between artists and government authority arise over studio demolition
By Katherine Volk
On March 29, the residence and studio of Chinese artists Shen Jingdong and Cao Zhiwen was demolished in Songzhuang, Beijing. Over 100 public security personnel clashed with around 100 local artists attempting to halt the demolition, leading to multiple injuries and the arrests of two protestors. Government officials refused to acknowledge the issue when they were contacted about the case.
On the morning of the demolition, Shen circulated a request of solidarity to friends and contacts on the social media platform WeChat, prompting local artists, especially those who live or work in Songzhuang, to show up on site. Clashes ensued and Shen was held to the ground by a uniformed officer armed with a metal bident. Images circulated of participants with bloodied heads and security officials stood shoulder to shoulder to prevent access to the property.
By the afternoon, the studio was demolished with the artists’ belongings tossed onto the street. There will be no compensation for the destroyed or damaged property; government officials cited illegal construction as the reason for the action. Shen had acquired the two-and-a-half-acre piece of land in 2009 for the price of RMB 112,500 (USD 16,300).
One week prior, on March 21, another artist, Hua Yong, returned to his studio in Songzhuang after a vacation, and found his studio in a chaotic state with his belongings ruffled through or smashed. The poet Wang Zang and feminist activist Ye Haiyan, both of whom were based in the same neighborhood, were evicted from their homes in Songzhuang. Their landlords have indicated that government officials have applied pressure to ensure their expulsion.
Songzhuang has been China’s largest artist colony since the mid-1990s. The neighborhood was originally farmland, but the influx of artists brought infrastructure development, including the construction of roads and streetlights, and beautification of the area. In the past two decades, the artist population in Songzhuang has boomed, and thousands of artists now reside there.
However, since the 2008 Beijing Olympics, tensions have risen as land prices soared, which have led to evictions and demolitions. Protests against government actions have become more frequent, and there has been an upsurge in censorship and exhibition closures.
Katherine Volk is assistant editor at ArtAsiaPacific.
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