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Hungary artist’s BLM sculpture causes an uproar    

Hungary artist’s BLM sculpture causes an uproar    

The installation by artist Péter Szalay is a kneeling sculpture of the Statue of Liberty, illuminated in rainbow colors with her left hand raised in a fist. A tablet in her right hand says: “Black Lives Matter.” 

By
Orla Barry

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The statue by Hungarian artist Péter Szalay shows solidarity with Black Lives Matter.

Credit:

Courtesy of Péter Szalay

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A miniature sculpture of the Statue of Liberty dedicated to the theme of Black Lives Matter is causing uproar in Hungary — even before the work has been put on display.

A miniature sculpture of Lady Liberty holding a tablet that reads “Black Lives Matter.” 

Credit:

Courtesy of Péter Szalay

The statue is just 3 feet high and will be erected in Budapest for only two weeks in April. But pro-government commentators have already threatened to tear it down.

The installation by artist Péter Szalay is a kneeling sculpture of the Statue of Liberty, illuminated in rainbow colors with her left hand raised in a fist. In her right, she holds a tablet, not depicting the date of the Declaration of Independence, but the words, “Black Lives Matter.”

Szalay says even as he created the artwork, he expected it would be destroyed: “I was counting on this possibility. Tearing down statues is a sad tradition in Hungary.”

Related: In year of Black Lives Matter protest, Dutch people again wrestle with tradition of Black Pete

The work is one of a series of public art pieces commissioned by Budapest’s 9th District, but it is the only one to suffer such a backlash. Commentators on one of Hungary’s pro-government TV channels compared it to putting up a monument to Hitler.

Origo, the largest government-related online news site, said the artwork is a sign that the “radical left in Hungary want to join the incitement and hatred against whites and Christians.”

Activist and reggae singer Gregory G Ras, who organized the country’s biggest Black Lives Matter march in Budapest last summer, says he doubts if these pundits believe what they are saying. But he says pro-government networks that dominate the media landscape in Hungary like to hold debates about issues of this nature to distract from what’s really happening in Hungary today.

“Obviously, nobody really believes it. They just use issues that divide the people, to distract from the fact that democracy is over in Hungary.”

Gregory G Ras, activist and reggae singer, Hungary

“Obviously, nobody really believes it,” he said. “They just use issues that divide the people, to distract from the fact that democracy is over in Hungary.”

Related: Black man’s death by security guards in Brazil sparks outrage, protests

The Black community in Hungary is small, less than 1% of the entire population, which stands at about 9.7 million. About a thousand people turned out for the peaceful BLM march last summer. G Ras says it’s the Roma community that bears the brunt of racist attacks, although his wife, who’s half Ghanaian, half Hungarian, has received verbal abuse. G Ras believes racism is on the rise and blames the staunch, anti-migrant stance of the Hungarian government for the increase.

Gregory G Ras, a reggae singer and activist, organized the main Black Lives Matter march in Budapest last summer. His wife, Telma Lincoln, also a singer, and their baby Noah, are pictured with him at the event. 

 

Credit:

Courtesy of Gregory G Ras 

“It started in 2015 with the refugee crisis when the prime minister decided that this is the topic that will land him total control over the country,” he said.

The refugee crisis in 2015 in Europe saw thousands of migrants fleeing from countries like Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq to Europe. Some 67,000 asylum-seekers passed through Hungary in the first six months of 2015. But Prime Minister Viktor Orbán quickly shut his borders to the vast majority of refugees. Even as migrant numbers have remained minuscule in Hungary, Orbán’s government continues to spread fear about the dangers of immigration.

In 2016, he told Bild newspaper “if you take masses of non-registered immigrants from the Middle East into your country, you are importing terrorism, crime, anti-Semitism, and homophobia.” And the comments have an impact. A European Union survey in 2018 found only 10% of Hungarians would feel “totally comfortable” having an immigrant as a friend. Last month, the European Court of Justice ruled that Hungary’s restrictive, asylum-seeker policies violated EU law.

Related: Nigerians in the diaspora join #EndSARS protests

But not all Hungarians with African backgrounds think racism is an issue in the country today. Actor and radio presenter Sorel-Arthur Kembe, who was born in Hungary, has roots in the Republic of the Congo. His father, who was born in Brazzaville, came to Hungary to study in the 1970s. Kembe says he experienced some racist abuse in his youth: “In the early ’90s, I had to fight a lot of skinhead groups in the streets.”

“It may be important to show sympathy for the BLM movement, but I am not convinced that the best way to do this is to set up a statue.”

Sorel-Arthur Kembe, actor and radio presenter

But Kembe says that is over now. Hungary hasn’t faced the kind of integration problems that France or Belgium have with their migrant communities, he says — or experienced the kind of segregation the Black population in the United States suffered in the past. Kembe says he’s not sure Hungarian society knows what racism is, and he’s somewhat ambivalent about Szalay’s art installation: “It may be important to show sympathy for the BLM movement, but I am not convinced that the best way to do this is to set up a statue.”

Sorel-Arthur Kembe is an actor and radio presenter in Hungary. 

Credit:

Courtesy of Sorel-Arthur Kembe 

Many members of the Black community in Hungary are students on scholarships from African countries. The program has seen thousands of students attend prestigious universities in Hungary over the last 50 years. The program dates back to the Cold War, when the Hungarian government saw it as a way to help the socialist country open up to the world. In the last five years, the government has been particularly active in promoting the program, which is funded by taxpayers’ money.

István Tarrósy, professor of political science and African studies at the University of Pécs, says he finds it’s difficult to square off the government’s anti-migrant stance with its promotion of these scholarships to students in Africa.

“That’s one of the questions I’ve been visiting and revisiting myself. From an analytical point of view, it’s a very consistent government policy which is anti-immigrant. On the other hand, you can see these very pragmatic tools such as the scholarship program.”

Related: London composers inspired by BLM confront classical music’s inequities through sound

Tarrósy, who teaches many of the African students, says he doesn’t believe they experience much racist abuse. But he adds that these students live in university cities and things could be different if they were staying in smaller Hungarian towns. Hungary has quite a homogenous population — emigration is common but not immigration, he says.

András Léderer, senior advocacy officer with the human rights nongovernmental organization, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, agrees that the government’s anti-migrant rhetoric appears at odds with its promotion of scholarships to African students. But he says there’s a simple reason for it: political and financial capital.

“In every right-minded government, there is an idea to offer scholarships to foreign students to come and study in your country in order to build strong personal relationships for potential future political and business and academic leaders.”

András Léderer, Hungarian Helsinki Committee

“In every right-minded government, there is an idea to offer scholarships to foreign students to come and study in your country in order to build strong personal relationships for potential future political and business and academic leaders,” he said.

Most African students on scholarship in Hungary are unlikely to have a fluent grasp of the language to understand the derisive comments on pro-government media about the Black Lives Matter movement. Orbán’s own chief of staff, Gergely Gulyás, recently called Black Lives Matter “basically a racist movement.”

Léderer worries about the impact continuous pejorative comments on pro-government sites about BLM or the migrant community have on ordinary Hungarians. Watching events in Washington, DC, on Jan. 6, made him think about just how powerful these networks can be, he says.

“Many of these people [at Capitol Hill] have been reading conspiracy theories for years and that became the reality for them. And seeing how effective the Hungarian propaganda media is, one cannot help but wonder what will be the consequences of years of spreading vicious hate and conspiracy theories here in Hungary.”

Artist Szalay has received some verbal abuse since news of his art installation went public but says he is not too bothered by it. As an artist, he says, he’s happy that people are talking about his work. And if the statue is torn down he adds, well, that just proves that the Black Lives Matter movement is relevant in Hungary today. 

K-pop and Chinese hip-hop artists grapple with their responses to BLM 

K-pop and Chinese hip-hop artists grapple with their responses to BLM 

Given the Black roots of hip-hop, rap, K-pop and other musical genres, BLM is hard to ignore, but artists must straddle all kinds of considerations including restraints on freedom of expression in their respective countries. 

By
Rebecca Kanthor

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A dancer performs during breakdancing competition in Shanghai, April 27, 2013.

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Carlos Barria/Reuters

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Chinese American rapper Bohan Phoenix used to think that fighting racism just meant treating everyone with respect.

But after he was verbally abused on a New York subway earlier this year, as fears of the coronavirus led to racially charged attacks on Asians in the US, he felt he needed to be more proactive — and vocal — about standing up for people.

“COVID[-19], really, in a twisted way, gave me a slight glimpse of what it might be like to be a Black person in America.”

Bohan Phoenix, Chinese American rapper

“COVID[-19], really, in a twisted way, gave me a slight glimpse of what it might be like to be a Black person in America,” he said. “Also, the momentum of seeing everything happening around me, especially in New York, there was no way that with everything that was happening, that I could have sat still and just kept thinking, ‘Oh, I just need to be nice to every person.’”

    View this post on Instagram         

Yo shout out to my mom for hand making this crazy dope keyboard cake 🔥🎂🥰 She just made an IG account @yumeibakery please show her some love or order some custom cakes or just say waddup to mama Phoenix! But yo @m_audio what’s good tho???! 😁😁

A post shared by BOHAN 博涵 (@bohanphoenix) on Jul 25, 2020 at 9:32am PDT

In the past few months, he’s become more active and outspoken, going to Black Lives Matter protests, learning more about the civil rights struggle, donating money to social justice causes and using social media to encourage others to do the same. But he’s been struggling to find a way to make music that reflects this experience.

Related: Family of detained Chinese activist calls for his release

These are issues that many other artists of Asian ethnicity are grappling with in the US and around the world. Given the Black roots of hip-hop, rap, K-pop and other musical genres, BLM is hard to ignore, but artists straddle all kinds of considerations including restraints on freedom of expression in their respective countries. 

“It’s a weird time to make music because I can’t write anything that’s not about what’s happening right now [— ] but for me to put that out as a song, that feels weird, too.”

Bohan Phoenix, Chinese American rapper

For Bohan Phoenix, it affects him personally, and in his approach to music: “It’s a weird time to make music because I can’t write anything that’s not about what’s happening right now [— ] but for me to put that out as a song, that feels weird, too.”

Recently, Bohan Phoenix and Jamel Mims, an American rapper who spent years in China and performs as MC Tingbudong, did a broadcast on Instagram talking about Asian communities and Black Lives Matter. The two shared their experiences, traded rhymes and talked about what the role of hip-hop artists should be.

    View this post on Instagram         

NO FASCIST POLICE STATE 📸@meldcole Emergency protest Swipe 👉🏾👉🏾👉🏾 for details Quick story: I first met the homie @meldcole in 2008- spending a night in jail together after an incident of police brutality in Boston. I had just got accepted to the @the_fulbright_program, and I was at a street wear party with @cyberamaris & @sabel_boo that was broken up the cops – and as we left the scene- the pigs followed us and attacked us. They pepper sprayed the homie @vncnt_mchl, dragged @donedealwil around in handcuffs, dragged me into the streets right out of Amaris’ arms, and snatched up Mel, smashing his camera to try to destroy the evidence. Days later I got a call from the State Dept. – naively thinking they would rush to the defense of one of their scholars – but instead saying my grant would be in jeopardy because of a “run in with the law”… From that incident, I learned police brutality was systemic – but it wasn’t until I linked with the @therevcoms in NYC, that I learned that you need a revolution to actually deal with the oppression of black people. Fast forward to now, with a fascist in the White House, and protestors being snatched off the streets by Trump’s #gestapo for demanding #BlackLivesMatter, it’s clearer than ever. Shoutout to Mel for seriously stepping up in this period, and not just documenting, but fighting on the frontlines. This is a time when we have to marshal every nonviolent tactic to drive out this regime, as part of breaking through to a revolution that can end this brutality and oppression for real. It’s gonna take ALL of us✊🏿

A post shared by JAM NO PEANUT 《MC 听不懂》 (@jamnopeanut) on Aug 1, 2020 at 10:37am PDT

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In collaboration with @blacklivitychina, @bohanphoenix and @jamnopeanut discuss Black Lives Matter and Asian communities. Since the start of the latest Black Lives Matter protests in the US and around the world, discussion has swirled for weeks in both the media and on online platforms in the Chinese mainland.⁠ Within China’s hip hop community — which many feel owes its success to the genre’s origins in Black culture — reactions have varied widely. Some of the most well-known rappers from China have been largely silent on the issue, while others have been passionately outspoken. And beyond the world of hip hop, the movement has raised many questions around Asian communities’ support of Black Lives Matter.⁠

A post shared by RADII (@radii.china) on Jul 12, 2020 at 7:03am PDT

 

Rita Fan, a hip-hop writer, penned an article on the small minority of Chinese hip-hop artists speaking up in support of Black Lives Matter. 

Most big hip-hop stars have stayed silent, according to Fan. That’s because mainstream hip-hop in China today isn’t rooted in any fight for social justice, she said.

Related: Farmers become social media stars on Chinese TikTok

“Young people maybe just see, ‘Oh, this is trendy. This is fashionable, and this seems so cool. It makes money.’”

Rita Fan, hip-hop writer

“Young people maybe just see, ‘Oh, this is trendy. This is fashionable, and this seems so cool. It makes money,’” she explained.

For the past two decades, hip-hop had an underground following in China. Then, three years ago, an online TV show, “The Rap of China,” changed all that.

“The first season of ‘The Rap of China’ popped up and just exploded everything,” she said.

The online TV show brings in millions of viewers and has launched huge careers for many new artists. Bohan Phoenix said these artists and fans embrace the look and sound of hip-hop, rooted in Black culture, without learning the history.

“They completely sanitized it. There wasn’t a single episode talking about the origin of hip-hop. There are Chinese kids effectively seeing dreads on Asian kids for the first time. There’s Chinese kids listening to hip-hop for the first time from Chinese people.”

Bohan Phoenix, Chinese American rapper

“They completely sanitized it,” he said. “There wasn’t a single episode talking about the origin of hip-hop. There are Chinese kids effectively seeing dreads on Asian kids for the first time. There’s Chinese kids listening to hip-hop for the first time from Chinese people.”

Related: Racism against African Americans in China escalates amid coronavirus

That’s similar to K-pop in Korea, says Hye Jin Lee, who is a clinical assistant professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

“So, even in Korea, there’s not a whole lot of political connotation in the music or in the performance of hip-hop,” she said. “It’s more of a commercial tool to express one’s so-called swag and coolness.”

In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death after a white, Minneapolis officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, some K-pop, and Korean and Chinese hip-hop artists posted on social media in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

Korean fans could read along in real-time what K-pop stars were posting on Instagram and Twitter, which are popular platforms in Korea. But Chinese fans couldn’t read what was being said by the biggest Asian American hip-hop label 88rising, and its stars Higher Brothers, on social media platforms that are banned in China. And 88rising stayed silent on Weibo, China’s social media site.

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no worries.

A post shared by 88rising (@88rising) on Jul 24, 2020 at 11:34pm PDT

Lee said overall, the K-pop industry is more connected to Black culture in the US than is Chinese hip-hop.

“First of all, the K-pop industry itself is built on Black music and also because K-pop’s popularity in the States owes heavily to the African American fans here,” she said.

With only 51 million people in Korea, K-pop has had to be more outward-facing. It’s now a global industry with K-pop artists all over the world, like Jay Park, based in America. Lee said that the global nature of K-pop helps to explain why the band BTS and its management company, Big Hit Entertainment, donated a million dollars to Black Lives Matter.

One reason why big Chinese stars may shy away from speaking out is that discussing politics in China is tricky. And with the Hong Kong protests becoming a flashpoint between the US and China, staying quiet might seem the safest bet to avoid problems with authorities and fans who are keeping tabs.

Related: America’s BLM protests find solidarity in South Korea

The most vocal support for BLM has come from hip-hop artists with a smaller, more underground following. Fan, the hip-hop writer, said that hardcore hip-hop fans knew which artists would speak up.

“Because they speak up not only for Black Lives Matter movement but also for other social issues in China. Because they care about society. They care about others.”

Rita Fan, hip-hop writer

“Because they speak up not only for Black Lives Matter movement but also for other social issues in China. Because they care about society. They care about others,” Fan said.

The Beijing rapper, Saber, put out an unofficial music video on Weibo with a long statement. He also has a song, “We are Hip Hop,” which includes lyrics that share his response to the Black Lives Matter movement. 

“We’re all human regardless of our race or nationality,” he raps, wearing a Kobe Bryant jersey. “If you empathize, then you must fight for freedom. If oppression exists, we must speak up.”

Nasty Ray, another underground Beijing rapper, recently put out a Black Lives Matter mixtape for his fans which included songs by Tupac Shakur, Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dogg and Childish Gambino. Inside the mixtape CD case, the words, “Love Black People Like You Love Black Culture,” is in giant letters.

“Since I was young I’ve been influenced by Black music. I’m a rapper and a DJ so I should use my music to express my support for Black people. I chose songs for the mixtape that would talk about the inequality Black people face,” he told The World via text message.

Major Chinese hip-hop stars may never acknowledge the debt they owe Black artists for the music that’s made them famous. But rappers like Saber, Nasty Ray and Bohan Phoenix are beginning to use their music as a platform to educate their fans about social justice and the history of hip-hop — something they’re continuing to learn themselves. 

Wale & Anthony Hamilton – Live Forever (The Birth Of A Nation The Inspired By Album) letras

[Intro]
Oh-oh-oh
Oh-oh-oh
Oh-oh-oh
Oh-oh-oh

[Hook: Anthony Hamilton]
I got so much to live for
So much to share
Could take a look in the mirror
And there’s no one else to care
I got so much to live for
So much to give
I don’t care if we take forever
Forever I’ll live
[Verse 1: Wale]
See my future in my daughter’s eyes
And at 45, woulda thought of making my daughter cry
It’s real hitters in the district that know me the best
Grew up with some men that’s homeless and smoking that wet
Hoping they closer to death
I’m totally over focused and don’t you forget
The so-and-so’s they put over me, know I’m the best
I’m blessed with the bars, shawty this is God work
I made some A&Rs rich off of hard work
They killing men and they innocent but they killing many
That badge of honor just not enough to conceal they feelings
They offing all us that’s just what I’ma tell my daughter partner
Study in school, watch out for cooties in the law department
Hey, I coulda kept my scholarship but hey
And I could have been a robber couldn’t I have? Yeah
A 4.5 40, or a 45 40, either way I run for my defense

[Hook: Anthony Hamilton]
I got so much to live for
So much to share
Could take a look in the mirror
And there’s no one else to care
I got so much to live for
So much to give
I don’t care if we take forever
Forever I’ll live

[Verse 2: Wale]
Another bragger, money don’t make ya boy
And lil Chad struggle with makers boy
So I ain’t waiting for no reparations
Man who got the patience
Just pay attention, I make my statements, boy
Well, you young and black, you may be lacking motivation
Unless you run or shoot a basket, women out here naked
1 in every 20 of ’em doing good though
That’s not a stat, that’s actually out my phone book
And I pray tonight night because they hate us and know it
I’ma pray tonight homie my lil baby don’t know it
I’ma hold on tight homie for every weapon they folding
How can all lives matter if it’s only brothers that’s mourning?
Haah, yeah
BLM till we see the end
See I was sort of sleeping until I seen the debt man
Numbers exceed the limit
And now I see it different
Ain’t willing to die for it? At least breathe it in

[Hook: Anthony Hamilton]
I got so much to live for
So much to share
Could take a look in the mirror
And there’s no one else to care
I got so much to live for
So much to give
I don’t care if we take forever
Forever I’ll live

[Hook: Anthony Hamilton]
I got so much to live for
So much to share
Could take a look in the mirror
And there’s no one else to care
I got so much to live for
So much to give
I don’t care if we take forever
Forever I’ll live

Wale & Anthony Hamilton – Live Forever letras

[Intro]
Oh-oh-oh
Oh-oh-oh
Oh-oh-oh
Oh-oh-oh

[Hook: Anthony Hamilton]
I got so much to live for
So much to share
Could take a look in the mirror
And there’s no one else to care
I got so much to live for
So much to give
I don’t care if we take forever
Forever I’ll live
[Verse 1: Wale]
See my future in my daughter’s eyes
And at 45, woulda thought of making my daughter cry
It’s real hitters in the district that know me the best
Grew up with some men that’s homeless and smoking that wet
Hoping they closer to death
I’m totally over focused and don’t you forget
The (?) they put over me, know I’m the best
I’m blessed with the bars, shawty this is God work
I made some A&Rs rich off of hard work
They killing men and they innocent but they killing many
That badge of honor just not enough to conceal they feelings
They offing all us that’s just what I’ma tell my daughter partner
Study in school, watch out for cooties in the law department
Hey, I coulda kept my scholarship but hey
And I could of been a robber couldn’t I have? Yeah
A 4.5 40, or a 45 40, either way I run for my defense

[Hook: Anthony Hamilton]
I got so much to live for
So much to share
Could take a look in the mirror
And there’s no one else to care
I got so much to live for
So much to give
I don’t care if we take forever
Forever I’ll live

[Verse 2: Wale]
Another bragger, money don’t make ya boy
And lil Chad struggle with makers boy
So I ain’t waiting for no reparations
Man who got the patience
Just pay attention, I make my statements, boy
You young and black, you may be lacking motivation
That (?) shoot a basket, women out here naked
1 in every 20 of ’em doing good though
That’s not a stat, that’s actually out my phone book
And I pray tonight night because they hate us and know it
I’ma pray tonight homie my lil baby don’t know it
I’ma hold on tight homie for every weapon they folding
How can all lives matter if it’s only brothers that’s mourning?
Haah, yeah
BLM till we see the end
See I was sorting sleeping until I seen the debt man
Numbers exceed the limit
And now I see it different
Ain’t willing to die for it? At least breathe it in

[Hook: Anthony Hamilton]
I got so much to live for
So much to share
Could take a look in the mirror
And there’s no one else to care
I got so much to live for
So much to give
I don’t care if we take forever
Forever I’ll live

[Hook: Anthony Hamilton]
I got so much to live for
So much to share
Could take a look in the mirror
And there’s no one else to care
I got so much to live for
So much to give
I don’t care if we take forever
Forever I’ll live