BEIJING (AFP) - An art show highlighting domestic violence has been shut down at the last minute by Beijing authorities, organisers said on Thursday (Nov 26), apparently the latest victim of Chinese cultural controls.
More than 60 artists - half of them women - contributed work to the show, timed for Wednesday's United Nations-designated International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
But when the artists arrived at the venue in the centre of the capital for the opening they found themselves locked out, while gallery staff were absent.
Curator Cui Guangxia told AFP a source close to the venue said the show had "not received approval from relevant departments".
Beijing's municipal cultural bureau said it was not responsible for overseeing visual art shows, while a gallery employee told AFP that it only provided the space for the exhibition, and was not involved in the organisation.
She could not comment on the reasons for the closure, she said, adding that the works would be returned to the artists.
The sensitivity of the show's themes - feminism and domestic violence - are the likely reasons for the closure, Cui and artists involved said.
The ruling Communist party does not allow public challenge to its authority, and officials tightly monitor and sometimes cancel art shows in the country as well as prosecuting activists who dare to mount protests.
Earlier this year Beijing police detained five feminist campaigners who had planned to distribute leaflets and post stickers against domestic violence in several cities, releasing them more than a month later after an international outcry.
Restrictions have increased since President Xi Jinping came to power, artists say, with the country's premier independent film festival shut down for the last two years.
Cui was detained for more than a month last year over his public support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
Participants in the art show shared photographs of the display with AFP, with several paintings depicting women hung against white walls.
Domestic abuse takes place in more than 24 per cent of Chinese families, according to the state-run All China Women's Federation.
"Our exhibition cannot be held, but our attitude and standpoint is unchanged," feminist art critic Tong Yujie told the artists as they commiserated over the closure at a duck restaurant near the gallery.
"Eating together shows the exhibition is still continuing... this exhibition still has a place in art history," she added, to applause from other diners.
A webpage promoting the show said: "We invite you to support with us the UN Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women" It added: "If we don't speak out, who will speak out?"