Danish artist hires lawyer to reclaim Tiananmen sculpture in Hong Kong

The 8m-high "Pillar of Shame" by Jens Galschiot has sat on the University of Hong Kong's campus since 1997. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

HONG KONG (AFP) - The Danish artist behind a Hong Kong sculpture mourning those killed in Tiananmen Square has instructed a lawyer to secure his work and bring it overseas after the city's flagship university ordered its sudden removal.

The 8m-tall "Pillar of Shame" by Jens Galschiot has sat on the University of Hong Kong's (HKU) campus since 1997, the year the city was handed back to China.

It features 50 anguished faces and tortured bodies piled on one another and commemorates democracy protesters killed by Chinese troops around Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Last week, HKU, the city's oldest university, ordered it to be removed by 5pm on Wednesday (Oct 13), citing "legal advice" as the authorities crack down on dissent.

Galschiot told Agence France-Presse that he had hired a lawyer in Hong Kong and requested a hearing with the university over the future of the statue as the deadline looms.

"I hope that my ownership of the sculpture will be respected and that I will be able to transport the sculpture out of Hong Kong under orderly conditions and without it having suffered from any damage," he told AFP via e-mail.

Galschiot said he would prefer the statue to have stayed in Hong Kong. If it was destroyed by the authorities, he said, Hong Kongers should collect "as many pieces of the Pillar of Shame as possible".

"These pieces may be used to make some symbolic manifestation that empires pass away - but art persists," he said.

Galschiot said he had also been in contact with people in Hong Kong who were making 3D scans of the sculpture to produce miniature versions.

HKU's removal order was penned by global law firm Mayer Brown and addressed to the Hong Kong Alliance, a now-disbanded organisation that used to organise the city's annual Tiananmen remembrance vigils.

The university said it was "still seeking legal advice and working with related parties to handle matters in a legal and reasonable manner".

Mayer Brown said the university was a longstanding client, which was being helped to "understand and comply with current law".

A spokesman told AFP: "Our legal advice is not intended as commentary on current or historical events."

Hong Kong used to be the one place in China where mass remembrance of Tiananmen's dead was still tolerated. But the city is being remoulded in China's own image in the wake of huge and often violent democracy protests two years ago.

The "Pillar of Shame" features 50 anguished faces and tortured bodies piled on one another. PHOTO: REUTERS

Scores of opposition figures have been jailed or fled overseas, and the authorities have also embarked on a mission to rewrite history and make the city more "patriotic".

Many of the alliance's leaders have been arrested over the last year and the last two vigils have been banned, with the authorities citing the Covid-19 pandemic.

Officials have also warned that commemorating Tiananmen could constitute subversion under a new national security law that Beijing imposed on the city last year.

A museum run by the alliance was also raided and shuttered, with its exhibits carted away in police vans.

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