Australian Artist Guo Jian Arrested In China Amid Tiananmen Square Anniversary Crackdown

Guo Jian, courtesy of the artist.

Chinese-born Australian artist Guo Jian has been detained by authorities in Beijing as part of what seems to be a growing crackdown on potential protests in the lead up to Wednesday’s 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

The artist joined the People’s Liberation Army as a teenager under then leader Deng Xiaoping, and he spent time as a propaganda poster painter before a growing disenchantment with the military, culminating in the Tiananmen incident, turned him into a critic of the government. He was a university student who jumped the locked gates and joined the 1989 hunger strike protest for a week before being hospitalised, returning to the Square just as the Chinese military began killing civilians.

He moved to Australia in 1992 and became a citizen, with his macabrely subversive, yet colourful cartoon-like paintings, using Chinese opera, military and circus motifs, garnered increasing critical acclaim. He often tackles the conflict between sex and violence and the East and West, adding a wry humour. His works hang in the National Gallery of Australia, Casula Powerhouse and Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, as well as the private collection of Lucy and Malcolm Turnbull.

Untitled, 2007, by Guo Jian, courtesy of the artist and Arc One Gallery.

He returned to China in 2005 joining friends in a restaurant venture and lives in the Songzhuang art colony near Beijing. He appeared on the ABC’s Shanghai Q&A show in April.

Guojian was taken from his home and detained by police on Sunday night in the wake of an interview in the Weekend Financial Times that was critical of China’s censorship laws and revealed he’d created a protest artwork using a model of Tiananmen Square covered in 160kg of pork mince.

Recalling the violence of Tiananmen, he told the Financial Times “In the army I had never seen that sort of violence. Then I saw the tracers and people falling around me – they were just gone. I suddenly realised, shit, this was war.”

Any mention of the 1989 massacre is forbidden under Chinese law and the interview was removed from copies of the paper distributed in China.

Suzanne Hampel, director of Arc One Gallery, which represents Guo Jian, said she’d heard from fellow artist Gwan Wei, who suggested Chinese authorities were likely to deport Guo Jian to Australia.

“My understanding is that they are rounding up intellectuals and artists to diffuse any chance of protests,” Ms Hampel said.

Journalists and lawyers also appear to be among those detained.

A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said the Australian Embassy in Beijing had contacted Chinese authorities to seek further information.

“The Australian Government stands ready to extend all possible consular assistance to Mr Guo,” the spokesperson said.

You can read Guo’s Weekend Financial Times profile here.

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