Hong Kong’s oldest university erected security barriers around a statue mourning those killed in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and posted guards at the site late on Wednesday, in a move that may signal the artwork’s imminent removal.
The 8-metre-high Pillar of Shame by Jens Galschiøt has sat on the University of Hong Kong (HKU) campus since 1997, the year the city was handed back to China.
In October, HKU officials ordered the removal of the sculpture, which features 50 anguished faces and tortured bodies piled on one another and commemorates democracy protesters killed by Chinese troops around Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Late on Wednesday, university staff used floor-to-ceiling sheets and plastic barriers to shield the statue from view, and construction noise could be heard, according to an AFP reporter at the scene.
Security guards have blocked reporters from getting close and tried to stop media outlets from filming, and a cargo container was placed on the ground near the statue.
The university has not responded to calls and emails from AFP on whether the statue is being removed.
Galschiøt told AFP it was “strange” and “shocking” for the university to make a move on the statue, which he says remains his private property.
“This is a really expensive sculpture. So if they destroy it, then of course we will sue them,” he added. “It’s not fair.”
Galschiøt said he had offered to take the statue back and, with the help of lawyers, tried different ways to get in touch with the university.
HKU officials never contacted him or alerted him to Wednesday’s action, he said.
The artist sent an email to supporters, encouraging them to “document everything that happens with the sculpture”.
“We have done everything we can to tell [HKU] that we would very much like to pick up the sculpture and bring it to Denmark,” it said.
Hong Kong used to be the one place in China where mass remembrance of Tiananmen’s dead was still tolerated, but the city is being remoulded in China’s own authoritarian image in the wake of huge and often violent democracy protests two years ago.
Scores of opposition figures have been jailed or fled overseas, and authorities have also embarked on a mission to rewrite history and make the city more “patriotic”.