Artist Of Tiananmen Memorial Sculpture Drops Copyright So All Can Use It Free
By Mikelle Leow, 06 Jan 2022
A chilling sculpture memorializing the Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989 was taken down from its place of residence in Hong Kong, where it stood for 24 years. Previously feeling helpless by the move, the Danish artist behind the haunting Pillar of Shame has now decided that the work is for all of humanity, and has removed its copyright so that anyone can reuse, build upon, or distribute the art for free.
Jens Galschiøt’s 26-foot installation depicts bodies stacked on top of each other, honoring those who died during protests for democracy in Hong Kong. The artwork was permanently loaned to the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China in 1997, and had been displayed at Hong Kong University up until recently.
The alliance, now dissolved following a crackdown by the Chinese government, was asked to pull down the monument by Hong Kong University. The university maintained that it was forced to make this request after “external legal advice and risk assessment” determined a takedown would be “for the best interest of the university.” Bloomberg, however, pointed out that this came at a time when the government began ramping up restrictions for free speech.
At the time, Galschiøt was desperate to learn the whereabouts or state of the sculpture, which was dismantled without his knowledge. Several attempts to contact the university from him and his lawyer in Hong Kong proved futile.
But he still had control over one feature: the artwork’s copyright.
Rather than giving up autonomy to the movement’s silencers, Galschiøt is now distributing the democracy-centered art to the people, quite aptly, and has done the paperwork to remove it from the shackles of copyright protection.
The artist said he was driven to make the art free after receiving more than 40 requests from artists and activists saying that they wanted to recreate Pillar of Shame in their own ways. With the copyright restrictions lifted, anyone can now repurpose the work however they wish.
Galschiøt told Danish radio network DR News, via ScandAsia, that he is aware he’s put himself at risk of larger corporations exploiting the work, now that he has relinquished ownership. “Yes. I’ve laid down with the devil… It cannot be avoided and that’s fine,” he responded. “I exploit them and they exploit me. It’s a mutual ‘spanking.’”
He also acknowledged that, with the attention currently surrounding the sculpture, he could “spin a fair deal of gold on this if I wanted to… but I’m not particularly interested in money.”
More important to him is for the Pillar of Shame to spread its message of human rights instead of being tucked away. “It is a symbol of keeping the memory of the massacre and Hong Kong alive,” he related.
“The worst thing that could happen was if nothing happened and that no one cares about the Pillar of Shame.”
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