A first-of-its-kind museum dedicated to the Hong Kong people opened its doors on Thursday amid criticism over censorship of the programme by Beijing’s government.
The Hong Kong Museum of Art (M+) is located in the heart of the financial district in Hong Kong, one of the highest-profile projects to be commissioned by the former British colony since it reverted to Chinese rule in 1997.
The museum is geared toward “ethnicity, race, feminism, sexual equality, class, creativity and capitalism”, according to its website.
Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp, however, has been deeply concerned about the limited freedoms for anyone other than regular visitors to the museum. On Wednesday, activists and scholars called for an investigation after it was revealed the museum will also allow Beijing-controlled organizations, such as the Chinese Embassy and the Department of Justice, to have space within the museum.
“The museum has a different name than the original envisioned and funded by the Hong Kong people – the Museum of Civic Life. It tries to distort its meaning as promoting a positive image of Hong Kong,” said Jessie Ng, one of the youth representatives of Civic Passion, a civil group that advocates for Hong Kong’s democracy and political rights.
“We know this museum can only promote Hong Kong as a conforming state. They are not promoting the idea of Hong Kong that is free, or democratic, and doing so with maximum freedom.”
M+, however, was conceived of by the city’s new leader, Carrie Lam, and her predecessor, Leung Chun-ying, who took his lead from the Cultural Revolution and modern art movements, according to Ng. Lam has also made comments critical of historic leaders and political topics.
The mayor’s spokesman, Alexander Leung, told the South China Morning Post the museum respects China’s independence while also doing its best to serve Hong Kong and its people.
It is a difficult time for democracy in Hong Kong, where a bill that would legally regulate the city’s public speech faces considerable opposition from residents. It also comes amid tightened restrictions by the Chinese government.
Artist Ai Weiwei has reportedly been barred from entering the country as he prepares to perform an open-air art exhibition in Hong Kong’s financial district. The rules prohibit anyone with ties to those countries, such as the West, from entering.
And the chief of Hong Kong’s police force said earlier this month that he would be fine-tuning the law to make it harder for unpopular political figures to enter the territory – a veiled reference to current democratic movements.
• This article was amended on 22 September to correct the spelling of the name of civic passion’s Jessie Ng.