In a tense exchange between several parties, the University of Hong Kong (HKU) has requested the removal of a statue that has been exhibited at the campus since 1997. The request came after the disbandment of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China.
As reported by the Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP), the University sent a request on Thursday, 7 October, for the removal of the statue by the following Wednesday at 5 PM. “If you fail to remove the sculpture … it will be deemed abandoned,” the letter said.
The terse request follows the stricter national security laws that led to the crackdowns of many pro-democracy groups, including the Alliance. The Alliance was disbanded after several of its leaders were arrested due to these new laws.
The ownership of this statue came into question after the letter from HKU was delivered to the Alliance. The history of the statue began when the artist, Danish Jens Galschiøt, lent his statue to be installed at the university campus. While the statue was considered a gift to the Alliance, Galschiøt still claims that he still has the rights of ownership and the statue was lent to the Alliance for a permanent exhibition.
As of 12 October, the University still holds its deadline for the statue removal, despite two typhoons in the past week and the logistical difficulties of a roughly 2-ton, 8-meter statue. The Alliance is still seeking clarification as to the fate of the statue and what the University plans to do with it.
As for the artist? Galschiøt claims that he will seek legal damages if the statue was destroyed or damaged. He told HKFP that the university never contacted him about the removal of the sculpture. “Nobody talked to me. I just hear about it from the press.”
The University’s Pillar of Shame is one in a series of Galschiøt’s statues of the same name. The statues depict hundreds of bodies twisted into a pillar, with faces depicting agony and fear. The statues are meant to symbolize grief and loss, with the artist calling it a “Nobel Prize for Injustice”. The statues are installed in cities like Rome, Mexico, and Berlin. In Hong Kong, the statue is meant to represent the lives lost during the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. Every year, students and faculty clean the statue as a way to remember the event.