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Artist Xiao Lu boycotts exhibition amid CCP propaganda concerns in Sydney art scene

By Lionel Te-Chen Chiou - posted Tuesday, 30 January 2024

In this recent incident, a globally recognized artist has taken a firm stance to prevent Sydney from turning into a hotspot for the Chinese government to flaunt artworks that the repressive regime nods to.

Xiao Lu: Shun This Exhibition, Resist against the CCP

Advocating a boycott of an exhibition that prominently showcased her work, Sydney-based artist Xiao Lu aims to alert theart community about the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) using art as a covert tool for propaganda.


During the 2024 Sydney Festival event, In Our Time: Four Decades of Art from China and Beyond The Geoff Raby Collection,a piece of Xiao Lu's work is included. Although invited to the exhibition opening, which conveniently took place within a 15-minute bus ride from her residence, Xiao Lu not only declined the invitation but also discouraged the art circle and the public from participating in the event.

Xiao Lu's decision to boycott the exhibition is rooted in her concerns regarding Geoff Raby, the former Australian Ambassador to China and a notable collector of Chinese contemporary art. Raby is also the founder of a Beijing-based consulting firm that promotes business operations. Notably, Raby has publicly expressed pro-China government sentiments, and has even endorsed their crackdown on protests advocating for freedom in Hong Kong.

"Open Fire" Being Mistitled and Depoliticised

Monetarily speaking, Xiao Lu's decision to oppose Raby may be viewed as unwise, given that many Chinese artists depend on collectors like him as a crucial source of income. Nevertheless, Xiao Lu was compelled by various reasons to take a stand against the exploitation of art as a tool for CCP propaganda. Above all, she found it disconcerting to witness Chinese dissent artworks being silenced, a factor that fueled her determination to prevent such silencing within the artistic realm.

Xiao Lu observed a conspicuous absence of political dissent challenging the CCP's "main theme" within Raby's collection. Her piece "Open Fire" stood out as one of the rare exceptions directly confronting the CCP. However, during the exhibition, this work was mistakenly titled as "Dialogue," an error that mischaracterized its political nature. It is noteworthy that "Dialogue" was another piece by her, openly acknowledged by her as non-political art.

Adding to Xiao Lu's dissatisfaction was that the mislabeling had persisted for over a year. In 2022, the Raby's Collection exhibition, bearing the same name as the Sydney exhibition, debuted in Victoria for the first time. Bala Starr, the curator for both exhibitions and the director of La Trobe Art Institute at La Trobe University, touted Xiao Lu's work as one of the three "must-see" works in the 2022 exhibition. However, she misidentified the piece, labelling it as "Dialogue".


Despite Xiao Lu's prior correction request, when the exhibition opened in Sydney over a year later on January 18, 2024, the displayed work's title had still not been rectified. When a reporter from Radio Free Asia (RFA) pointed out the error to Raby and Starr, both claimed to be unaware of it and took no immediate action. Instead, they offered assurances of conducting further verification without addressing the issue promptly.

As expressed to RFA, Xiao Lu criticized Raby for lacking collector rigour, emphasizing that basic details of the work appear unimportant to him. Consequently, she suggested that the credibility of his statements might be open to doubt.

Xiao Lu expressed her bewilderment to RFA regarding the mislabeling of "Open Fire." While the puzzle surrounding this error remains, a noticeable and undeniable fact emerges - the work had been depoliticized. Given that "Dialogue" is Xiao Lu's most renowned piece, information emphasizing its apolitical nature is widespread. The risk arises when individuals mistakenly associate "Open Fire" with "Dialogue," potentially leading them to information about the apolitical work and overlooking the conversations surrounding its political nature.

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About the Author

Lionel Te-Chen Chiou is a Sydney-based freelance journalist specializing in cultural affairs. His main research interests are the Chinese Communist Party and its narrative control.

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