WikiLeaks Is Showing Classified Government Cables in an Art Exhibition Raising Awareness About Threats to Free Speech

Visitors could be prosecuted for viewing some of the materials included in an art exhibition being staged by Wikileaks in London. The show will address tactics of government oppression and the state of freedom of speech in contemporary societies, and includes hard copies of the classified government cables leaked by Julian Assange in 2010.

Ai Weiwei, Dread Scott, Santiago Sierra, Andrei Molodkin, and the late Vivienne Westwood are among the artists ensemble also featured in the upcoming exhibition. Titled “States of Violence,” the show that will run from March 24 to April 8 is a first-time collaboration between the international nonprofit, the London-based art organization a/political, and the Wau Holland Foundation, named for the German “hacktivist” cofounder of the Chaos Computer Club. The exhibition coincides with the fourth anniversary of the detention of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in the U.K. capital. Assange remains in the high security Belmarsh Prison while the U.S. attempts to extradite him under the Espionage Act, which could lead to 175 years of imprisonment.

The show will also feature Secret+Noforn (2022) by the Institute for Dissent & Datalove. The body of work is said to be the largest physical publication of classified U.S. diplomatic cables from the 2010 WikiLeaks Cablegate—the publication of which led to Assange’s prosecution. Consisting of 66 books, the presentation will be the first time the top secret government cables have been shown in hard copy in the U.K.

Dread Scott - Obliterated Power Pentagon

Dread Scott, Obliterated Power Pentagon. Courtesy of the artist.

Although the cables have been widely available online for over a decade, possession and access of the materials may still come with legal consequences as the American Espionage Act enacted in 1917 is still valid today. This means that visitors at the exhibition opening one of the 66 books are advised that they risk being prosecuted for the same crime for which Assange is facing extradition.

The goal of the exhibition, explained WikiLeaks Ambassador Joseph Farrell, is not just about campaigning for Assange, but raising awareness about wider threats to freedom of speech. “If they are successful in getting an Australian out of Europe, the precedent will be set for a British journalist that writes something that the Chinese government doesn’t like—there’s nothing to stop the Chinese government from requesting the extradition and putting them in prison. It is a much greater issue,” Farrell told Midnight Publishing Group News.

The organizers hope the artworks on show demonstrate various forms of violence and institutional oppression that have been employed by the states to target dissidents.

Andrei Molodkin - Wikileaks Blood Logo

Andrei Molodkin, Wikileaks Blood Logo. Courtesy of the artist.

The curatorial team is still finalizing the exhibition plan and declined to say exactly how many works and how many artists will be featured in a/political’s Kennington venue. “We hope that culture is the last free space to be speaking about this. But even culture, even artists are struggling for their freedom of speech. A number of artists we work with have been imprisoned or on the wrong side of the law or their work being censored,” said a spokesperson of a/political.

Among the works on show will be Ai Weiwei’s photography series Study of Perspective, which sees the Chinese artist-activist raising his middle finger to pieces of architecture representing the institutional authority. One of the works the series, Tiananmen, which has been censored in Hong Kong, will also be on display. Works by the legendary designer Westwood, supported by the Vivienne Foundation, will “have a strong presence” at show, according to a/political, as well as a public program hosted by hip-hop artist and activist Lowkey. A closing music event will be held in collaboration with Shangri-La Glastonbury on April 8.

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Hong Kong’s M+ Museum Has Removed Ai Weiwei’s Famous Tiananmen Square Photo From Its Website While It Awaits Government Review

The news that Hong Kong’s M+ Museum would not display Ai Weiwei’s photograph of Tiananmen Square in its inaugural exhibition made international headlines earlier this year. Now, the institution has taken another step, removing the image from its newly launched website while it is under review by the authorities, Midnight Publishing Group News has learned.

Pro-Beijing politicians had accused Ai’s Study of Perspective: Tian’anmen (1997)—which depicts the Chinese dissident artist raising a middle finger at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square—of “spreading hatred against China” under the country’s national security law, which went into effect in Hong Kong last June.

Another work by Ai, Map of China (2003), has also been censored online. That sculpture, a 3D map of the country made of wood salvaged from demolished Qing Dynasty temples, aims to celebrate China’s cultural and ethnic diversity. The sculpture and photograph are part of the M+ Sigg Collection, a major Chinese art trove donated to the museum by Swiss entrepreneur Uli Sigg.

Both images could be seen on the beta version of the M+ collection website, but were no longer available when the final site went live on August 10.

“M+ is reviewing the treatment of certain images of works having regard to the advice obtained from relevant authorities including the Office for Film, Newspaper and Article Administration,” a spokesperson for the museum told Midnight Publishing Group News. “The images concerned are not uploaded pending completion of the review.”

A screenshot of M+'s website, with images of some Ai Weiwei works missing.

A screenshot of M+’s website, with images of some Ai Weiwei works missing.

Many images of works by Ai are accessible on the website, including Still Life, an installation comprising thousands of axes from the Stone Age that was exhibited when the M+ Sigg Collection was first unveiled in Hong Kong in 2016, as well as other pieces from the “Study of Perspective” series, including Bundeshaus Bern (1999) and White House (1995).

Ai questioned the inconsistent treatment of the series. “Why is M+ not showing Tian’anmen but keeping White House?” the artist told Midnight Publishing Group News. (Ai recently wrote an op ed for Midnight Publishing Group News about M+’s decision not to show the work in its opening show.)

Hong Kong’s Office for Film, Newspaper and Article Administration is responsible for “enforcing the film classification system under the Film Censorship Ordinance,” “controlling the publication of obscene and indecent articles,” and the registration of local newspapers. The government proposed in August to amend the Film Censorship Ordinance, giving the chief secretary, the city’s number two executive, power to revoke any approval given to a film should its exhibition “be contrary to the interests of national security.”

Ai Weiwei, Study of Perspective: Tian'anmen (1997). M+ Sigg Collection, Hong Kong. By donation, © Ai Weiwei.

Ai Weiwei, Study of Perspective: Tian’anmen (1997). M+ Sigg Collection, Hong Kong. By donation, © Ai Weiwei.

In addition to the two works by Ai, a number of other objects in the M+ collection are not shown on the website, including some of those by Kacey Wong, who is known for his political art and recently left Hong Kong for Taiwan in “self-imposed exile.” However, some works that might be considered politically sensitive, such as Liu Heung-Shing’s photographic series “China After Mao” and images depicting the summer of 1989 in Beijing following the Tiananmen crackdown, are accessible.

The soon-to-open museum stated that digitization of its 8,000-object-strong collection “is an ongoing effort” and that the collection “will be updated periodically as new works, information and intellectual property rights become available.”

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The U.S. Government Just Sold the One-of-a-Kind Wu-Tang Album It Seized From Martin Shkreli

The Wu-Tang Clan’s one-of-a-kind record Once Upon a Time in Shaolin has a new owner.

The United States Department of Justice has found a buyer for the world’s most valuable album, which it seized from former owner Martin Shkreli in 2019 after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the disgraced pharmaceutical executive and hedge fund manager’s conviction and sentencing for securities fraud.

The buyer and the purchase price are both being kept confidential, but the sale will cover the $7.4 million forfeiture money judgment against Shkreli.

“Shkreli has been held accountable and paid the price for lying and stealing from investors to enrich himself. With today’s sale of this one-of-a-kind album, his payment of the forfeiture is now complete,” acting U.S. Attorney Kasulis said in a statement.

The one known copy of the Wu-Tang Clan album Once Upon a Time in Shaolin has been sold to a new owner after being seized by the government. Photo by the United States Marshals Service.

The one known copy of the Wu-Tang Clan album Once Upon a Time in Shaolin has been sold to a new owner after being seized by the government. Photo by the United States Marshals Service.

The rap group first announced the release of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin in March 2014.

“We’re making a single-sale collector’s item,” Wu-Tang’s Robert Diggs, known as RZA, said at the time. “This is like someone having the scepter of an Egyptian king.”

The 128-minute double album features 31 tracks and is stored in a hand-carved box, along with a 174-page leather-bound parchment book featuring the lyrics to and other information about the songs.

Infamous for dramatically inflating drug prices—the life-saving AIDS medication Daraprim went from $13.50 to $750 a pill under his ownership—Shkreli infuriated music fans when he revealed himself to be the album’s owner in December 2015.

Wu-Tang Clan members Cilvaringz and RZA and Paddle8 founder Alexander Gilkes hold the book, box, and certification that come with the "Once Upon a Time in Shaolin" album. Photo courtesy of Paddle8.

Wu-Tang Clan members Cilvaringz and RZA and Paddle8 founder Alexander Gilkes hold the book, box, and certification that come with the “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin” album. Photo courtesy of Paddle8.

But to this day, the record has only been played publicly once, in a 13-minute excerpt for a select group of potential buyers, press, and contest winners at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in March 2015.

There are reports that the album originally sold for $2 million, and it is officially recognized by Guinness World Records as the world’s “Most Valuable Album.”

“I can also confirm that the sale price was substantially more than what Mr. Shkreli paid for it,” Benjamin Brafman, Shkreli’s lawyer, told CNBC.

The Wu-Tang Clan's one-of-a-kind album Once Upon a Time in Shaolin. Photo courtesy of Paddle8.

The Wu-Tang Clan’s one-of-a-kind album Once Upon a Time in Shaolin. Photo courtesy of Paddle8.

Shkreli was convicted of trying defraud investors and manipulate the stock price of Retrophin, his publicly traded biopharmaceutical company. Before he was forced to relinquish his assets, Shkreli unsuccessfully tried to sell the album online. He is currently serving a six-year federal prison sentence.

The auction company that conducted the original sale, Paddle8, has also seen a dramatic reversal of fortune in the years since. It merged with Berlin online auction platform Auctionata in 2016, but that company folded in early 2017. Paddle8 declared bankruptcy of its own in March 2020.

Once Upon a Time in Shaolin faced legal proceedings of its own when artist Jason Koza claimed his work had been used without permission in the book made to accompany the record. The case was later settled.

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A London Museum Wants to Relocate a Statue of Its Slave-Trader Founder—But the U.K. Government Won’t Let It Happen

London’s Geffrye Museum has changed its name to the Museum of Home, but the institution’s statue of former namesake Robert Geffrye, an English merchant and slave trader, is still a source of controversy—and the government is preventing the museum from removing the sculpture from its prominent place above the entrance.

The museum, which reopens to the public on June 12, has just completed an £18.1 million ($25.5. million) redevelopment project that began in early 2018.

But its reopening festivities are expected to be marred by protests, with local Hackney member of parliament Diane Abbott set to speak at a rally calling for the statue’s removal, reports the Hackney Gazette.

The dispute arises as institutions across the U.K. wrestle with how to interpret the official government policy to “retain and explain” monuments to racist, colonialist, or otherwise problematic figures, from slave trader Edward Colston to British imperialist Cecil Rhodes.

Exterior of the Museum of the Home from Kingsland Road. The statue is beneath the clock, above the door. Photo ©Jayne Lloyd, courtesy of the Museum of the Home.

Exterior of the Museum of the Home from Kingsland Road. The statue is beneath the clock, above the door. Photo ©Jayne Lloyd, courtesy of the Museum of the Home.

Geffrye was the part owner of a ship chartered by the Royal African Company that transported men, women, and children from West Africa to Jamaica, where they were sold into slavery. He also paid for the almshouses in London’s Hackney borough, which is now the site of the Museum of the Home, dedicated to period rooms recreating domestic life in the U.K. from the 1600s to the present.

Museum of the Home opted to keep Geffrye’s statue in place even after it changed its name from the Geffry Museum in November 2019. Under renewed pressure last summer, the museum’s board said the institution would “respond to the issues raised by this debate” and “reinterpret and contextualize the statue where it is,” according to a statement.

But the debate wasn’t over.

“Since then, an alternative interpretation of retain and explain has been suggested, envisaging that the statue could be relocated elsewhere in the museum’s grounds,” a museum representative told Midnight Publishing Group News in an email.

“The museum staff feel that by moving it to an alternative location on site we can explain it better,” Tamsin Ace, the museum’s director of creative programs, told the Telegraph. “Having it at height on a really visible thoroughfare in Hackney is problematic.”

Ace proposes moving the statue to the graveyard where Geffrye is buried on the far corner of the lawn. “It’s a great spot for contemplation and reflection, and people can choose whether they engage with him in that way because the statue remaining in position is a painful memory,” she explained.

But that effort was stymied when the Department of Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport made it clear it would not approve an application to relocate the statue elsewhere on the grounds of the building, which is has been listed by Historic England as a building of exceptional interest.

Now, the museum says its hands are tied. “In light of new legislation proposed by the government in January 2021 to protect historic monuments at risk of removal or relocation, the board believes that its original decision is the only practical option for the foreseeable future,” the museum representative added. “The museum is continuing to explore options for the statue and to listen carefully to all the issues raised.”

The statue at the Museum of the Home was originally installed at the former almshouse founded by Geffrye in 1724, and replaced with a replica in 1912 or 1913, before becoming a museum in 1914. It will now be accompanied by a sign that reads “these buildings were founded by Robert Geffrye, an English merchant who profited from the forced labor and trading of enslaved Africans.”

Other statues in the U.K. have been the source of similar disputes. In Bristol, protestors toppled a statue of 17th-century merchant and slave trader Edward Colson and dumped it in the harbor during last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests. A year later, it has gone on display at M Shed, part of the Bristol Museums.

And debate is still swirling over the fate of a statue of Rhodes at Oxford University. A college at the school voted last June to remove it, but determined last month that it would remain in place due to the costs involved. Now, 150 academics are boycotting the institution, refusing to teach while the statue remains in place.

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The UK Government Is Infusing Its Struggling Arts Sector With More Than $600 Million in Its 2021 Budget

The struggling UK culture sector is getting another lifeline. Today, the government announced £485.8 million (around $677 million) in additional financial support for the arts as part of a broader plan to reboot the pandemic-battered economy.

The UK’s economy shrunk by 10 percent in 2020, the largest contraction in 300 years. Chancellor Rishi Sunak has forecast the economy is likely to return to pre-shutdown levels by the middle of 2022. The new measures to boost the arts sector were announced alongside other cross-sector initiatives, including an extension of the government’s furlough program, the establishment of a recovery loan program, and the launch of eight freeports

Ahead of the budget statement, Sunak acknowledged that the arts and culture industry is a “significant driver” of economic activity, employing more than 700,000 people across the UK. “I am committed to ensuring the arts are equipped to captivate audiences in the months and years to come,” he said.

The cash infusion includes some £408 million for England, including an extra £300 million to the £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund, £90 million to support its locked-down national museums, and £18.8 million to fund other community cultural projects. The government will give an additional £77 million to the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland to support their own culture sectors.

The director of the London-based charity Contemporary Art Society, Caroline Douglas, welcomed the additional funding. “The arts in this country are vitally important to our sense of identity, and will play a key role in the way we come out of this crisis,” Douglas told Midnight Publishing Group News. 

But she was less certain of whether this aid would be enough to keep institutions afloat until they are allowed to reopen their doors on May 17.

“For museums the past year has been a financial car crash,” Douglas said. “For years, they have been urged to be more entrepreneurial, more imaginative in the way they generate income, and become less dependent on state subsidy. Business models that relied on generating ever-larger audiences, on ticket sales for temporary exhibitions, and other commercial activity are having to be overhauled.”

The sector, she notes, has a tough two to three years ahead. “It is not just a question of surviving until the reopening, because we know that life is not just going to snap back to pre-pandemic levels of activity this summer.”

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