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Brother Nut takes vow of silence, protesting Chinese censorship around COVID-19

Artists have long used protest to express disdain.

words by: Sahar Khraibani
Aug 6, 2020

Brother Nut is an internationally-known performance artist and activist based in Beijing, China. Born in Shenzhen in 1981, he is best known for his 2015 work “Project Dust.” Utilizing particulate matter vacuumed out of the heavily polluted air in Beijing, he fabricated a brick. The project spotlighted the ongoing air pollution problems in the city and country.


Now, Brother Nut is back with a whole other project that serves a similar commentary purpose. Protesting Chinese censorship around COVID-19, he decided to take a vow of silence. For the project, titled #shutupfor30days, the artist and activist used duct tape, metal clasps, and other props in order to physically cover and seal his mouth, forcing himself to “shut up,” for the entire month of June. The point of departure is simple, as he shared on his Instagram posts throughout the duration of the project: “If I can’t tell the truth, I will not say a word for a month.”


Early during the worldwide pandemic, many organizations spoke out and denounced the increase in censorship in China during the COVID-19 outbreak. Ongoing investigations have found that authorities willingly withheld information about the true severity of the spread as well as other crucial data, which would have been useful to the global population. Brother Nut was probably inspired by Wuhan doctor Li Wenliang, who was arrested for allegedly “spreading rumors” after attempting to inform the public vis-a-vis the disease. He died of the virus, after having been penalized for speaking the truth.


The month-long performance piece hosted mainly on Instagram, is a statement on the country’s extensive track record of suppressing free speech. In one installment of the project, the artist sealed his mouth with packing tape and drew “404” over it, referring to the error code one receives when trying to load a webpage that no longer exists, nodding to the mass blocking of websites and digital content in the country. 


Artists have long been speaking truth to power, and Brother Nut is no different. “Sometimes I feel my job is similar to that of an NGO or a journalist – seeking to raise awareness of social issues and the moves to counter them,” Brother Nut told Reuters. The lines between art and activism often get crossed, giving artists more power and legitimacy in the lack of accountability and responsibility from governments and systems of power.


Photo via Reuters