A provocative artwork showing models wearing bomber jackets with slogans that include: “We should take a motherland. Kill our enemies, and the terrorists should also die,” “Be yourself, be your thoughts, be everything you want” and “You are what you eat, you are what you eat,” has opened in a major Italian gallery amid protests from the Chinese embassy in Rome.
The paintings by Anna Trapani, a member of an artists collective in Italy, are among some 150 pieces of conceptual art set to be displayed in a new exhibition in Rome called “Plumed Pointer,” or “The Chaplin Pavilion.”
And they are sparking controversy as they go up.
The work, dubbed a “faux-homage to the Chinese and the Middle Kingdom,” will be displayed in the “Voice of the Voiceless” gallery in the city center for six months, just weeks after a controversial exhibition showcasing art by the likes of Ai Weiwei was banned by the Chinese government.
While Trapani was not as outspoken as Weiwei, in a post on her website, she referred to China as a “strict, fanatic, and totalitarian regime.”
This was a reference to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent efforts to tighten state control over society, and specifically his “Chinese Dream” plans to turn China into a “socialist paradise.”
Although Trapani is no Ai Weiwei, she acknowledged the high-profile artist was her “great personal influence.”
Trapani is an Italian artist who has been selected by the group the curator, Marina Freud, as part of the “Voice of the Voiceless” artist project, which is seeking to find “funny, intellectual, and subversive artistic responses to our current state of affairs.”
Leading Chinese political artist Ai Weiwei’s piece from the show, “# AiKind,” depicts the artist and other political activists in a cave, commenting on Chinese state censorship, cult of personality and other issues.
“The Voice of the Voiceless” was launched in 2015 as a way to give government artists a platform to express their discontent. Since then, its collective of artists has premiered around 2,000 pieces, including the aforementioned Ai Weiwei and Trapani.
In January, Ai Weiwei received permission to have his Beijing exhibition forced to close temporarily after protests from members of China’s ruling Communist Party.
In March, the Italian government revoked Ai Weiwei’s travel permit, making it impossible for him to attend the opening of his biennial exhibition, “Tuidang,” in Turin.
This came just days after the Beijing government chose the “socialist paradise” as the theme for its congress, which Xi Jinping used to promote his “China Dream” plans and a program to “modernize” China to fight pollution and guide its way of life.
Trapani’s artwork also made Ai Weiwei worry.
“Your art is a danger to us,” Ai wrote on his blog. “Now I am thinking that you want to send a taste for a Chinese soviet … It may not be the perfect dialect for the Italian market, but I can tell that you are cultivating a type of film without irony, laughter, and a good heart, and don’t care if you are the new master or the gods.”
Anna Trapani and her fellow artist Karl Brunger deny the act was a “faux-homage” to the Middle Kingdom, and say Trapani is simply a “full-throated supporter of freedom of expression.”
The artists did not respond to requests for comment about their plans.
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