Curator And Writer Li Bowen Accused Of Sexual Misconduct
By Ysabelle Cheung
*Last updated September 28, 2018.
On September 24, a statement written by an anonymous cultural worker under the internet pseudonym "qiaoqiao" was circulated on social media platforms in China, accusing Li Bowen of "repeated patterns of deceit, gaslighting, and abuse." Li, who goes by LB, is a Beijing-based independent curator, former associate editor of Ocula.com and co-founder of Wyoming Project, an art space and publication platform located in a Beijing hutong. Following the statement’s release, other women who work in the Chinese art world posted corroborating stories to WeChat and Facebook about LB and his alleged pattern of deceptive and intimidating behavior. This outpouring led to LB resigning from his post at Ocula on September 26.
First posted on WeChat, the Chinese-language statement paints LB as a a figure who repeatedly deceived multiple women. New York-based independent curator, writer and artist Connie Kang translated the post, and it was sent to staff at Ocula by a group of female art-world participants. In an email to AAP, an Ocula representative stated that their full, international roster of staff and founders had no prior knowledge of LB’s pattern of behavior until the accusations were forwarded to them. The translated statement is as below:
"When I discovered last December that Li Bowen—curator, writer, and editor of Ocula, also known as LB—was lying about the fact that he was seeing three women at the same time, I stayed silent for the sake of self-protection. At the time, I couldn’t have imagined other women in the art world were suffering from identical forms of deception, repetitive, long-term emotional abuse, and physical trauma. Li used his lies to maintain overlapping relationships with many women and insist on having unprotected sex repeatedly, which led his partners to resort to emergency contraception or even repeated abortions. I feel the obligation to tell the truth about Li now because I don’t want to see more women and colleagues suffer from his repeated patterns of deceit, gaslighting, and abuse. It is my hope that this statement can help prevent future harm and serve as a warning to his peers and colleagues."
An additional statement, posted on September 26 by qiaoqiao, offers a revised account, and appeared to walk back some of the initial implications. Qiaoqiao writes: "We don't consider the case of Li Bowen a 'public incident' in a legal sense, as it does not involve typical abuse of power, direct physical harm, sexual harassment or non-consensual sexual conduct. The gravity and pervasiveness of Li's (mis)conduct is precisely due to the fact that it falls into the grey area between the jurisdictions of law and ethics. This is also the reason why this case urgently needs to enter the public sphere as cultural discourse." The full statements can be read here.
Despite this outpouring of information, there have been no further first-hand statements from women involved with LB, possibly due to fear of retaliation and threats to their professional career—a serious consequence of speaking out in China. Sexual harassment and abuse in China, especially in the art world, is still a controversial matter, with most skirting around the issue, dismissing morally-ambiguous situations as hearsay, or placing the blame on individual women rather than addressing institutionalized problems. The government has clamped down aggresively on feminist movements, targeting individuals as well as organizations for arrest; in 2015, ten women were arrested for handing out stickers, intended to raise awareness of sexual harassment, in Beijing, with five of them being detained in prison for five weeks before their eventual release.
However, there have been recent, public efforts to stimulate discourse around power structures. Notably, Artforum China, whose parent organization is still grappling with the fallout of ex-publisher Knight Landesman’s sexual harassment lawsuit, has organized, in partnership with the Shanghai Biennale, a series of talks and events to explore how institutions, organizations and individuals tackle emotions related to contemporary society’s neuroses. The first talk, which took place on September 15, was framed around the idea of shame, touching on the ways in which the emotion is used against women and non-binary individuals, with respect to the #MeToo movement, as well as female sexuality and social status in general.
Qiaoqiao's second statement concludes, "it is our hope that the evolution of this case in the public sphere will lead to deeper and more engaged conversations and understanding of the public structures that affect, regulate and govern our affective relations."
As of September 28, LB has yet to post any response to the women’s accusations.
This article was updated on September 27 after people quoted in the original article, posted on September 26, no longer wanted their statements included and withdrew their consent to be published.
A follow up statement by the anonymous user known as qiaoqiao has also been added.
The article was updated on September 28 with a replaced image of Li Bowen, provided by an anonymous source.
Ysabelle Cheung is ArtAsiaPacific’s managing editor.
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