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POLITICS

Italy rejects China’s bid to stop an art show by ‘Chinese Banksy’ rebel

An Italian city is going ahead with plans to host an art exhibition by a Chinese dissident despite a request from China's embassy to cancel it, the mayor said in comments published Friday.

Badiucao, a Chinese cartoonist whose anonymous political satire earned him comparisons with Banksy - and the wrath of Beijing - outed himself as a former law school student who became politicised after watching a Tiananmen Square documentary in a dorm room.
Badiucao, a Chinese cartoonist whose anonymous political satire earned him comparisons with Banksy - and the wrath of Beijing - outed himself as a former law school student who became politicised after watching a Tiananmen Square documentary in a dorm room. (Photo by Odd Andersen / AFP)

The exhibition by Badiucao, a cartoonist also known as “The Chinese Banksy”, is expected to denounce Chinese political repression and censorship of information on the Covid pandemic.

The show, called “China is (not) near,” is due to run from November 13th to February 13th in the northern Italian city of Brescia, about 100 kilometres east of Milan.

Brescia Mayor Emilio Del Bono told Il Foglio newspaper on Friday that his office would not comply with a request from the Chinese embassy in Italy to scrap it.

He said the friendship between the Italian and Chinese people “is not in question”, but “I think it is important to show that you can stay friends while criticising some things.”

The deputy mayor, Laura Castelletti, earlier tweeted that “For us art and freedom of expression are an essential combination.”

Her message accompanied pictures of newspaper reports about the alleged censorship request from the cultural affairs office of the Chinese embassy in Rome.

Local paper Giornale di Brescia has quoted a letter from the cultural office to the council, in which it complained that Badiucao’s works “are full of anti-Chinese lies”.

READ ALSO: Spike in reports of ‘racist’ abuse of Chinese people in Italy

It alleged that they “distort facts, spread false information,” mislead the Italian public and “jeopardise friendly relations between China and Italy.”

The cultural office closed the letter expressing “strong dissatisfaction” with the exhibition and asking the council “to act quickly to cancel the above mentioned activities”.

The press office of the Chinese embassy in Rome did not respond to phone calls from AFP seeking a comment.

Badiucao, who lives in Australia, calls himself on social media a “Chinese-Aussie Artist hunted by CCP [Chinese Communist Party]”. He says the one in Brescia will be his first international solo exhibition.   

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CULTURE

Why did Italy choose opera over espresso in its bid for Unesco status?

Italy has put another pillar of national culture forward for inclusion on the UN agency's list of intangible global heritage - but it's not the art of making coffee, as many had hoped.

Why did Italy choose opera over espresso in its bid for Unesco status?

Music or coffee? This was essentially the tough choice Italy’s National Committee for Unesco was faced with when deciding which treasured Italian art form to recommend for recognition this year.

In the end, the committee on Monday chose to put forward the art of opera singing as the country’s candidate – meaning the art of making espresso coffee will not be considered for addition to the list alongside Neapolitan pizza-making after all.

On announcing the decision, the committee did not give any reason for its selection though said the much-discussed and somewhat controversial application for the candidacy of espresso coffee had been “highly appreciated”.

“With the candidacy of the Italian opera to the world’s intangible heritage, Italy is aiming to get recognition for one of its most authentic and original cultural expressions,” said culture minister Dario Franceschini after the committee’s decision.

“Italian opera singing is an integral part of the world’s cultural patrimony, which provides light, strength and beauty in the darkest hours”.

A performance of Puccini’s 1900 opera ‘Tosca’ at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP.

The announcement came as a boost for those working in opera houses and theatres across Italy after the Italian arts an cultural sector was hit hard by pandemic-related closures.

Italy has around 60 opera houses – the most in the world.

“Opera was born in Italy,” said Stephane Lissner, the French director of the San Carlo theatre in Naples, which opened in 1737 and claims to be the world’s oldest opera house.

“In the 19th century, when you arrived in any Italian town, the entire population sang opera arias. It was normal,” he told AFP.

Compared to France or Germany, he said: “Italy is different, Italian theatres are different… and if you go into the villages, they’re not even towns, you find small theatres.”

In Italy, lyrical music “is not just reserved for the elite”, he added, although he said “the majority of the public cannot pay certain ticket prices and has been abandoned”, which he said was a “huge error”.

In contrast, Italian coffee is an everyday pleasure enjoyed by the majority of the population – and the price of an espresso is kept below the symbolic threshold of one euro at most local bars due to the widespread belief that the drink should be  accessible to all.

READ ALSO: Where, when and how to drink coffee like an Italian

In fact, it’s not unusual for people to avoid bars that charge more than one euro for un caffè normale, even if that’s for a better-quality cup – with some reports of customers even complaining to the police about being charged higher prices for artisanal or specialist coffees. 

But this focus on keeping the price of Italian coffee low may be part of the reason the Unesco bid was rejected, according to food writer Nunzia Clemente in Naples.

“90-cent coffee shouldn’t make us proud,” Clemente wrote in a post on Italian food blog Dissapore.

Pointing to examples of corner-cutting by bar owners struggling to make a profit, she said “the final result is, half the time, bad to say the least”.

Unesco’s ruling on the bid for recognition of opera is due at the end of the year.

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