In honor of Freedom of Speech Day, the Jing-Mei White Terror Memorial Park will hold an exhibition on ordinary people who were convicted for exercising their rights and freedom of expression during the White Terror era. With the aim of illustrating how fundamental human rights were under sustained attack through the framework of enforcing martial law, the exhibition is free and open to the public from April 17 through Dec. 13.
Cheekily titled "Welcome to Jailbnb!", the New Taipei City exhibition highlights how oppression permeated everyday life under martial law from 1949 to 1987. During that time, it was not unusual for civilians who expressed their dissatisfaction with the government or criticized the head of state to be tried in military courts under charges of "instigating civil unrest" and "spying for the Communists." They were forced to be "re-educated" or sentenced to severe punishment such as forced labor or death.
Through comic strips, memes, and sensory installations that detect the physical movement of visitors, the exhibition closely examines how ordinary people then were subject to censorship. Other items curated for display — including verdict sheets and dossiers that contain such written sentences as "rebellious," "convicted to seven years in prison," and "confer three years of reformatory education" — bear witness to Taiwan's dark past.
"Welcome to Jailbnb!" features tailored artworks by Chen Yun-ju (陳韻如) and Tsai Kun-lin (蔡坤霖). By combining interactive sensory technology and satirical memes, Chen offers visitors a chance to ponder the standard for determining when speech is unprotected. Tsai, on the other hand, transformed an exhibition space into a public toilet. Through a variety of sounds and once-banned songs coming from the sewage pipes, Tsai's work aims to remind people of the period when walls had ears.
Describing the martial law period as an era with no freedom of expression, National Human Rights Museum Director Chen Chun-hung (陳俊宏) said ordinary people were easily criminalized for anything they did or said on a daily basis, which fueled a chilling effect on society.
As the White Terror period is close to unimaginable for contemporary teens who never lived under martial law and are unaware of a world without internet, this exhibition seeks to encourage reflection on the value and scope of freedom of expression. For example, the curators have utilized the comic strip format to spotlight how speeches on political or ideological topics were subject to draconian scrutiny.
Echoing Chen, Cheng Ching-hua (鄭清華), executive board member of the Nylon Cheng Liberty Foundation (鄭南榕基金會), said ordinary people who spoke against or wrote about the injustices were put behind bars and lost their youths or even lives. The foundation member also paid tribute to pro-democracy pioneer Cheng Nan-jung (鄭南榕, also credited as Nylon Cheng), who set himself on fire in defense of personal expression on April 7, 1989. Twenty-seven years later, April 7 was officially designated as Freedom of Speech Day in 2016 to commemorate his death by immolation.
Three freedom-of-speech workshops for vocational institutions or high school students will also accompany the exhibition later this year. The museum is partnering with the Nylon Cheng Liberty Foundation as well to launch a human rights-themed tour to promote public awareness on the basic rights that all beings are entitled to.
Originally scheduled for April 7 to mark Freedom of Speech Day in Taiwan, the opening of the event has been postponed to May 5 in compliance with the preventive measures issued by the New Taipei City government to curb the spread of COVID-19.
‘2020 Freedom of Speech Day — Welcome to Jailbnb!’
• Date: April 17 – Dec. 13, 2020
• Venue: Jing-Mei White Terror Memorial Park
• Address: No. 131 Fuxing Rd., Xindian District, New Taipei City, Taiwan (ROC)
• Site: https://event.culture.tw/NHRM/