From Hong Kong to Goldsmiths: the revolution of our times?

Hundreds of multi-colored sticky notes cover one wall of the exhibition “Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times” at the Goldsmiths Students’ Union (SU) Building.

The notes, left by the exhibition’s many visitors, contain words of affection and support. Their number reflects the huge interest in the Hong Kong protests; co-organizer Terry Leung estimates that the exhibition had fifty visitors, on average, each day from 22 to 27 November 2019.

A glass wall covered in post-its with messages written on them, under a mural of a woman covering her bleeding eye and the words "Save Hong Kong" backgrounded by a Union Jack.
Post-its with messages written on them cover a glass wall in the SU. The wall sits next to a mural of a woman with a bleeding eye, apparently calling on Britain to “save” Hong Kong. Photo credit: anonymous organiser.

The organisers, who are students from Goldsmiths and other London universities, want to use the exhibition to seek foreign support, as well as providing information to visitors.

One such visitor is Maggie, a British art student from Goldsmiths who is roaming the exhibition space. She is seeking “first-hand information” as an alternative to her “usual US- and UK-based media consumption”.

“We need to clarify the situation”, says co-organizer Terry. He says this is especially so for mainland Chinese students, who he thinks rely mainly on censored pro-Beijing news sources. Terry also says that mainland Chinese students who came to see the exhibition were mostly unwilling to engage in conversation with him. He believes that some were too afraid of being reported.

However, criticism of Hong Kong does not just come from Beijing. Some left-wing political activists from the USA question the democratic rationale of the movement. They point out the American interest in destabilising Hong Kong, as well as the funding provided by the USA’s National Endowment for Democracy’s to certain groups linked to the protests.

Other critics have provided their own history of the Hong Kong protest movement, in opposition to Western media narratives. They draw links between protest leaders, local elites and American politicians.

Nonetheless, the exhibition draws particular interest from students coming from the contested city itself. Many of them gather in the back room of the exhibition space. They are gravely watching Janet Lui, a Hong Kong activist and alumnus of the Political Communications program at Goldsmiths. She is showing videos and campaigning materials from the protesters.

Janet says she wants to give “more contextual understanding for the rationale behind the movement.” A timeline of the protests, along a wall directly opposite the entrance, provides more context. Excerpts from newspaper articles, pictures of smoke-covered street barricades and oil paintings by art student Bowie Martyr of Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam form a wild collage that tracks the protests from June 2016 to the recent escalations.

The exhibit also features additional artworks, like a black-and-white umbrella and a video game. A helper, who prefers to remain anonymous, says these are meant to show that protests are “not only boring politics”.

A collage of images and news articles about the Hong Kong protests form a timeline on a wall of the SU.
A collage of images and news articles about the Hong Kong protests form a timeline on a wall of the SU. Photo credit: Elizabeth Noefer.

The organisers say that it is meant to create a “safe space” for people to have a political discussion. “Everyone can say his opinion. We won’t take negative comments down”, says one of the team members, looking to the wall with notes.

What becomes clear from visiting the exhibition, certainly, is that a peaceful space for deliberate discussion is very much needed.