Chinese Artist Wields Digital Olympic Imagery to Protest Own Country

An artist from China launched a five-part collection of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) on Tuesday that use the 2022 Winter Olympics as imagery to protest China's oppression, lack of transparency regarding COVID-19 and the dismantling of democracy in Hong Kong, according to the dedicated site for the collection.

Created by artist Badiucao, the collection is titled Beijing 2022 and contains five drawings of Olympic-style images. In it, a snowboarder rides a surveillance camera instead of a snowboard, a curler slides the COVID-19 virus instead of a curling stone, and the biathlon shows someone blindfolded and held at gunpoint to represent the Uyghur genocide.

"I have been battling censorship from China's authoritarian regime for more than 10 years," the artist wrote on the collection's site. "When conventional galleries and venues are too intimidated to exhibit my art due to threats from Beijing, the Internet has been the last resort for artists like me."

An NFT is a digital art form similar to cryptocurrency that can be stored in a digital wallet or ledger. NFTs, Badiucao said, are a safe way to give financial support to dissident artists like himself, but also "serve as an important immutable public record outside of authoritarian tampering and control."

Each of the artworks will be minted as 2022 editions. As part of the minting process, collectors will have the opportunity to write their own message of opposition to China's government onto the blockchain.

In December, Badiucao showed the Beijing 2022 works in more than 20 locations around Miami before taking it to the Museo di Santa Giulia in Brescia, Italy. The Chinese embassy requested in October that the museum cancel the exhibit, but the city's mayor, Emilio del Bono, refused.

The project is a "collective act of censorship resistance" and 10 percent of the proceeds from the purchasing of the NFT collection will go towards the Human Rights Foundation's (HRF) "Art in Protest Residency," a collaboration between HRF and the Gray Area Foundation for the Arts.

Dubbed "the Chinese Banksy," Badiucao has used art and cartoon work to speak prolifically on political topics of interest for several years.

NFTs have been deemed a "reorientation of power and control," London-based artist Robert Alice told Forbes. The non-fungible tokens give control "back into the hands of the artist basically since the Renaissance and the printing press."

In a statement sent to Newsweek, Human Rights Foundation Executive Director of Art in Protest Holly Baxter said: "The Human Rights Foundation's Art in Protest residency aims to provide a safe space for dissident artists to grow and explore new ways to creatively propel the importance of civil and political rights into the global spotlight."

The statement continued: "Promoting and protecting human rights is at the very core of every initiative at the Human Rights Foundation."

More recently, NFTs have taken on different forms than just art, such as concert tickets and music. In March 2021, the band Kings of Leon released their newest album in NFT form as part of a three-part series called"NFT Yourself." The newer form of the album offered a special album package, show perks such as front-row seats as well as exclusive audiovisual art.

Digital and physical artists are continuing to push the envelope as they consider how far NFTs might take their art to their audiences.

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Artist Badiucao released a five-part collection of NFTs that use Olympic imagery to protest the Chinese government's oppression and human rights record. Above, Badiucao poses next to the series inspired by the coming 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, on November 12, 2021, at the Santa Giulia museum in Brescia, Italy. PIERO CRUCIATTI/AFP via Getty Images

Update 2/2/22, 4:22 p.m. ET: This story has been updated with a statement from the Human Rights Foundation's Art in Protest.