The Chinese performance artist and activist known as Brother Nut protested government censorship during the coronavirus pandemic by taking a vow of silence. For his #shutupfor30days project, the artist used metal clasps, duct tape, masks, and other props — even a plunger — in order to physically cover his mouth during the entire month of June. 

“If I can’t tell the truth, I will not say a word for a month,” the artist wrote on his daily Instagram posts throughout the duration of the project.

Numerous organizations, such as Amnesty International, have denounced the intensification of censorship in China during the COVID-19 outbreak. At the beginning of the crisis, Wuhan doctor Li Wenliang was arrested and investigated for “spreading rumors” after trying to inform the public about the disease. He later died of the virus, sparking outrage across the country. An investigation by the Associated Press found that Chinese authorities withheld information about the true extent of the coronavirus’s spread and other crucial data, such as the virus’s genome, potentially putting thousands of lives at risk.

Brother Nut’s performance piece is a symbolic statement on the country’s extended track record of suppressing free speech, particularly since President Xi Jinping took office in 2013. For one iteration of the project, the artist sealed his mouth using packing tape and wrote “404” over it, referring to the error code for a webpage not found and alluding to the government’s mass blocking of websites and digital content.

“Sometimes I feel my job is similar to that of an NGO or a journalist — seeking to raise awareness of social issues and the moves to counter them,” Brother Nut told Reuters

Brother Nut is likely best known for his

In some occasions, the artist himself has been targeted for his work. He was reportedly detained for 10 days after staging a torch relay titled “Good Luck Beijing” — a homophone of “Beijing Olympics” in Chinese — and says that he frequently receives threats and calls from police.

In 2018, local authorities shuttered his exhibition at Beijing’s 798 Art Zone that featured 9,000 plastic water bottles filled with polluted water from Xiaohaotu, a township in China’s Shaanxi province. The show was reportedly closed after two weeks due to trademark infringement complaints from Nongfu Spring, the popular Chinese bottled water brand, but it prompted an official investigation into the water quality in Xiaohaotu.

Valentina Di Liscia is the News Editor at Hyperallergic. Originally from Argentina, she studied at the University of Chicago and is currently working on her MA at Hunter College, where she received the...