Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Wednesday that the authorities will be "on full alert" to make sure museum exhibitions in Hong Kong are not undermining national security.
She was responding to a question by New People's Party lawmaker Eunice Yung, who said upcoming shows at the West Kowloon Cultural District's M+ Museum are causing “great concern” to her and many members of the public, because they are apparently “spreading hatred” against China.
“We’ve been to many museums, but most of the displayed pieces are to show the beauty of arts,” Yung said.
“But then, we have spent so much time and effort to build the West Kowloon Cultural District. How come there will be display of art pieces that are suspected to have breached the national security law and also are an insult to the country?” the lawmaker asked during a monthly half-hour Legco question session with the chief executive.
Yung also asked Lam whether she will designate any departments to vet the museum’s exhibitions to make sure they are in line with national security and the Basic Law.
The legislator's question came a few days after the director of M+, Suhanya Raffel, said it wouldn't be a problem for the contemporary visual arts museum to show pieces about the Tiananmen crackdown or works by mainland artist and political activist Ai Weiwei.
Lam told Legco that she trusts museum officers can tell the difference between artistic expression and threats to national security.
“Would the art pieces to be displayed there breach the so-called red line? With the national security law in place, we have to safeguard national security,” Lam said.
“But, of course, here we’re talking about an arts and culture centre. We have to respect the freedom of artistic expression,” she said.
“I’m sure staff are able to tell what is freedom of artistic expression and whether certain pieces are really meant to incite hatred or to destroy relations between two places and undermine national security,” she said, before adding: “We will be on full alert in watching such matters.”
John Batten, a member of International Association of Art Critics Hong Kong, accused Yung of ‘scaremongering’, stressing that all artwork at the M+ Museum had been chosen carefully by various committees and are not controversial.
“The people who are on those committees… they’re the denizens of society in Hong Kong,” he said.
He added that while most art in general doesn’t incite hatred, it could always be interpreted in this way.
Batten accused Yung of ‘scaremongering’, warning that accusations like hers could end up encouraging self-censorship among museum staff.
“If you cross a red line that someone has arbitrarily made, then it's difficult to fight... That is the fear” he said.
“And I would suggest to someone like Eunice Yung, rather than scaremongering... if there is debate you make it in a sensible debate and you engage in a dialogue rather than finger-pointing, because that's not helpful. And we know where finger-pointing goes – you can then cause self-censorship.”
Last updated: 2021-03-17 HKT 20:01