It is a three-meter-high cast iron chair, the bars of which at the bottom are those, icy of a prison cell. Ten years after the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo on October 8, 2010, this Empty chair by sculptor Wang Keping, was inaugurated on Friday in the only place that volunteered to welcome her in France: the Théâtre du Soleil, at the Cartoucherie de Vincennes, where at the invitation of Ariane Mnouchkine, the work was installed on the short grass among the trees, in front of the trailers where artists and undocumented migrants lived. In short, “She is here as if she had always been there”, congratulated Ariane Mnouchkine before reading in front of a hundred guests, representatives of NGOs, Chinese dissidents and artists, Sinologists, the river speech of Liu Xiaobo on the announcement of his conviction in 2009, this “I have no enemies, I have no hate” which he was never able to fully utter because his speaking time was not to exceed that of the prosecutor.
The “empty chair” symbolizes the one that was placed on the stage during the Nobel ceremony in Oslo on December 10, 2010, when Liu Xiaobo was serving an eleven-year prison sentence and his wife, Liu Xia, was held in the couple’s apartment in China. This first Nobel Peace Prize ever awarded to a Chinese had a huge impact in the world.
“He was wiped off the face of the world”
If the event was hushed up in China, where censors began to ban ideograms ” kong yisi (Empty chair) circulating on social networks, it nonetheless aroused immense hope in pro-democracy circles, then in full swing. Not only did Liu Xiaobo die in prison in 2017 without ever benefiting from a remission of sentence, but the coming to power of Xi Jinping at the end of 2012 would call into question all the gains made in terms of freedom and plunge China into a totalitarianism of ‘a new genre.
No doubt the dissident intellectual would have hailed, had he still been alive, the trio behind the Empty chair de la Cartoucherie: a famous Chinese sculptor in exile, one of whose first works, Silence, in 1979, showed a one-eyed face with the mouth closed by a cylinder; a sinologist and defender of rights who works tirelessly to make known in France the fate of the victims of the Chinese dictatorship and those who resist it, Marie Holzman. And finally a theater director who has passionately defended in her creations, among others, the Tibetan cause. ” When Liu Xiaobo disappeared, not only was he in prison and had not been released even though he was two years away from the end of his sentence, he was wiped from the face of the world because he was not was not buried, his ashes were scattered at sea almost two to three days after his death. And all that, for us, was too much “Said Marie Holzman.
It is through Wang Keping, who calls her in tears, that Marie Holzman learns, on September 13, 2017, of the death of Liu Xiaobo, that the prison authorities transferred a fortnight earlier to a hospital to find him cancer. terminally ill. She talks to the sculptor about an old project to have the Oslo chair made. Wang Keping immediately volunteered. The piece is performed on their own funds.
Two hours and “not a minute more”
On the first anniversary of the dissident’s death, a commemoration takes place in front of the Center Pompidou. The organizers have all the difficulties in the world to have the authorization to exhibit the sculpture there, for two hours and “Not a minute more”. In February 2019, the empty chair was transported to Brussels to be displayed for two weeks in a room in the European Parliament during an NGO congress against the death penalty.
Regularly solicited for her knowledge of China, Marie Holzman points out wherever she goes, especially at the Elysee Palace, that the Cempty haise is looking for a place of welcome. From the town hall of Paris to the court of Bobigny, the avenues explored do not succeed. “The creation of this work dedicated to Liu Xiaobo has not aroused phenomenal enthusiasm in Paris. We did not get permission to exhibit it anywhere “, she notes. Until Ariane Mnouchkine, just recovered from the Covid, made a point of opening her doors to it. The only state representative at the Cartoucherie on Friday, the ambassador for human rights, François Croquette, quipped about the “Empty chair policy” successive governments in France since Liu Xiaobo’s imprisonment, to pay tribute to “You the artists of the Théâtre du Soleil, you the NGO activists who, even today, have saved our honor”.