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Chinese artist gets a year in labor camp for “Art Whore” exhibition

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Cheng Li, a Chinese performance artist, has been sentenced to a year of "re-education" through labor, after engaging in unsimulated sex with a female partner as part of an art show at the Contemporary Art Exhibition Hall in Beijing. The live performance piece, titled "Art Whore," is intended to be a thinly-veiled metaphor for the prostitution of the art world. In fact, there are no veils at all. Cheng explained that the impetus behind his act is the idea that "the popular trend of commercializing art is nothing but a trade of sex for commercial benefits."

Cheng's act included sex scenes on a balcony, and in the exhibition hall's basement. Three days after the March 20 Eyes Wide Shut-like performance, Cheng and fellow artists were rounded up by local police, with Cheng subsequently being convicted for inciting disorder due to his "nude pornographic performance." If a few shutterbugs and quiet onlookers is considered disorder, then I guess they have a point. Cheng's attorney, Wang Zhenyu, is applying for administrative reconsideration. If that's denied, he'll then file an administrative appeal.

Getting the Lenny Bruce treatment would be expected here, and, it's sad to say but, "only" getting a year seems like getting off lightly by Chinese standards. Coming in the wake of last month's detention of China's most famous artist, Ai Weiwei, for his outspoken politics, it's encouraging to see artists like Cheng continue to express themselves, despite the consequences that may ensue from living under a repressive regime. Wang said, "We want other artists to identify with Cheng's action and invite legal scholars to clearly define the relationship between the arts and the law."