COPENHAGEN – A Danish artist who is seeking to retrieve his sculpture in Hong Kong commemorating the victims of China’s 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown said Friday he wants safe passage guaranteed for himself and his employees when they dismantle and remove the artwork called “Pillar of Shame,” which is at the center of a controversy.
In an open letter, Jens Galschioet said that his presence in Hong Kong is “necessary” because the 8-meter-tall (26.25 feet), two-ton sculpture is “very difficult to move ... without causing significant and irreparable damage."
The copper sculpture depicting dozens of torn and twisted bodies has been on display at the University of Hong Kong and has been in the city for 24 years.
In 1989, China’s leaders sent in the military to end pro-democracy protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, killing hundreds, and possibly thousands, of people.
The ruling Communist Party has squashed any public discussion or memorializing of the events in mainland China. For years, the only major memorial on Chinese soil was an annual candlelight vigil in Hong Kong, but authorities have banned the gathering for the past two years, citing COVID-19 concerns.
Galschioet said he wants to bring the sculpture back to Denmark, and wants “a guarantee that my employees and I will not be prosecuted in relation to the disassemblement and moving of the monument.”
In October, the university in the semi-autonomous city demanded the removal of the “Pillar of Shame” and set a deadline, but no immediate action was taken after the time limit passed.
“I can understand from the press that the introduction of the new security legislation in Hong Kong means that there is a legal basis for arresting foreign nationals who engage in activities that criticize China,” Galschioet wrote. He warned that the removal of the sculpture “will lead to activities and media coverage that could be perceived as criticism of China.”