Shirley Tse, Playcourt (courtesy of M+ and the artist, photo by Ela Bialkowska, OKNOstudio)

The Hong Kong pavilion at the Venice Biennale announced this morning, June 12, that it will be closing for the day. The pavilion will suspend its activities to join a strike in protest against the Hong Kong government’s proposed amendment to its extradition law. The pavilion closes as tens of thousands of protesters clash with police forces in Hong Kong in a march against the proposed bill.

Christina Li, curator of artist Shirley Tse’s exhibition at the pavilion, announced the one-day strike in a Facebook post showing a note posted on the pavilion’s entrance saying in in English and Italian: “Due to unforeseen circumstances, the exhibition ‘Shirley Tse: Stakeholders, Hong Kong in Venice’ will be closed on June 12, 2019. Please excuse us for the inconvenience.”

On Sunday, June 10, more than a million protesters took to the streets of Hong to oppose a new draft law that would allow extraditing fugitives to jurisdictions with which Hong Kong has not signed an extradition agreement. The protestors are especially wary of the transfer of fugitives to mainland China, where they say courts lack independence and respect for human rights. Despite the wide public criticism, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam said that she will move forward with the amendment, insisting that it will uphold justice, protect human rights, and fulfill the island’s international obligations, according to an Associated Press report. The bill comes to Hong Kong’s Legislative Council for a vote on Wednesday after it was postponed because of Sunday’s protests.

“Shirley and I respect people’s right to strike,” Li told the South China Morning Post (SCMP). “We asked the three staff on duty at the pavilion and it became clear that we won’t have the manpower to keep the pavilion open today.”

Hong Kong’s pavilion at the Venice Biennale is co-organized by the government’s Arts Development Council and M+, a museum under construction at the West Kowloon Cultural District. The SCMP reported that M+ had earlier insisted that the pavilion would remain open as usual.

Around 100 Hong Kong arts organizations, including commercial galleries, joined the call to strike on Wednesday. Several international galleries joined the strike as well, including Lehmann Maupin, Simon Lee, and Ben Brown Fine Art. Pace Hong Kong told its workers they are free to join the strike. The Hong Kong Artist Union, a vocal supporter of the strike, is encouraging Hong Kong’s 20 publicly funded cultural institutions to join the strike as well.

Hakim Bishara

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is also a co-director at Soloway Gallery, an artist-run space in Brooklyn. Bishara is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital...