Singapore artist wakes up injured after 'blacking out' in Hong Kong

Police probe case; some speculate he was targeted for anti-China remarks

Mr Lee Wen in hospital in Hong Kong. He was discharged yesterday.
Mr Lee Wen in hospital in Hong Kong. He was discharged yesterday. PHOTO: COURTESY OF HELINA CHAN

Hong Kong police are investigating how Singapore performance artist Lee Wen ended up injured in a university toilet here on Saturday evening.

The bizarre episode, which has led to speculation that he was assaulted for comments critical of China, has baffled many people, including the artist himself.

Speaking to The Straits Times yesterday at the Eastern Hospital in Chai Wan before being discharged, Mr Lee - his face bruised and his T-shirt bloodied - has no recollection of what happened.

At around 6.15pm, he went to a toilet at the City University of Hong Kong. After relieving himself, he "suddenly blacked out".

When he came to shortly before 7pm, he found himself on the floor with bloodied bumps on his forehead, a bruised left eye and cuts on his left cheek.

"I was in pain; there was blood on the floor," he recounted.

The 57-year-old stressed that he did not see any would-be assailant or feel any blow. "I do not claim to have been assaulted, although I have (certain theories) going through my mind," he said.

He has no history of sudden fainting spells. Despite suffering from Parkinson's disease the past five years, he has "never fainted before except for when I drank in the past - six, seven years ago".

The police, responding to queries, say the case, originally classified as "alleged assault", has been reclassified as "request for police investigation" after they questioned Mr Lee. A source says the police will begin their probe today by checking cameras on the campus and interviewing witnesses.

Mr Lee, a highly regarded artist who was awarded the Cultural Medallion in 2005, is known for championing the causes of those who have suffered under oppression and censorship, said curator Johleen Loh.

Appearing in good spirits yesterday, Mr Lee said he had attended an arts forum at the university at the last minute. Towards the end, he stood up to share his views and also spoke of "a friend who created a performance art piece in the privacy of his home and thus has not broken the law". But, he added, "the police have now broken the law, punishing people in a way that is illegal".

While he did not name the person, it was taken by the 20-plus participants to refer to Beijing artist Chen Guang, recently detained after performing a piece in memory of the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen incident. Chinese authorities have been rounding up mainland academics and journalists ahead of its 25th anniversary.

Within Hong Kong, Saturday's incident came in the wake of a cleaver attack on a former newspaper editor to warn him against, many believe, investigative reports that displeased Beijing.

But artist Jeremy Sharma, 37, who was at the forum, said Mr Lee "was applauded, and no one seemed offended".

With question marks over the episode, Mr Lee said simply when asked about possible perceptions that it could have been staged to raise awareness about his friend's plight or as performance art: "There is no integrity in that."

The Singapore arts community yesterday condemned what happened. Said writer-photographer Jason Wee, 35: "Lee Wen is short, thin, wears glasses and has Parkinson's. Whatever opinions he may hold, assaulting him in the toilet where he was found is like picking on the smallest boy in class when his pants are down. There is no honour or justice in that."

Mr Lee was absent yesterday from the Art Basel Show where he is exhibiting. At its conclusion, he had eight works sold. He returns to Singapore today with his gallerist Helina Chan.

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