Chinese dissident artist Badiucao knew he was taking a big canvas by painting human rights slogans on the basketball shoes of Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter.
But he didn’t realize the size of these shoes, a men’s size 16 – almost 12 and a half inches long.
“I was given a very tight schedule to finish this art… When I received the shoe it was so big that I almost felt unable to finish it,” he said in an interview with The Hill . “It’s bigger than I expected.”
Badiucao is one of the many artists who produce protest shoes for the Turkish basketball player of Swiss origin. Badiucao’s work is part of a campaign to raise awareness of human rights violations by the Chinese Communist Party. The slogans he painted on three pairs of sneakers include “End Slave Labor Now” and “Free Tibet”.
Kanter wore the shoes on the court – which led to Celtic’s allegedly censored games in China – and promoted them on his social media. On Monday, he posted a video on Twitter accusing Nike of being an accomplice in the Chinese genocide against the Uyghur Muslim community.
Nike has previously said it maintains strict oversight of its manufacturing in China to ensure it does not contribute to Beijing state-sponsored oppression against Uyghurs.
In January, the State Department determined that China was committing genocide against Uyghurs and other minority groups, particularly in Xinjiang province.
Kanter’s profile in the NBA and his outspoken advocacy for human rights, specifically related to his home country of Turkey, has made him a celebrity for oppressed groups, a partner for lawmakers and a target. for foreign governments.
“Enes Kanter has this idea that human rights are a universal value, which means we have to support each other,” said Badiucao, who was born in Shanghai but lives in exile in Australia, of which he is a citizen.
The artist is a prime target of the Chinese government for his satirical political art. Some of his most notable pieces include the depiction of Winnie the Pooh as a turret on a chariot or a hunting trophy mounted on the wall of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The affable children’s teddy bear was censored in China after it gained popularity for making fun of Xi.
“I think satirical art has this very interesting power,” Badiucao said in a telephone interview from Brescia, Italy, where his upcoming exhibition was attacked by the Chinese government, which called on Italian authorities to cancel. the exhibition.
“We try to poke fun at authoritarian regimes like China and make fun of them. This is why Winnie the Pooh – the charming little yellow bear – serves perfectly to dissolve this power of the Chinese government. “
Badiucao said he was introduced to Kanter through a mutual friend and got together for the shoe project. He said the shoe maker they were using was not associated with China, but declined to name the brand.
The shoes that have so far been revealed include crisp white basketball sneakers with what looks like splatter of blood as well as black letters that say “Hypocrite Nike” and “Modern Day Slave”.
Other shoes understand paintings of handcuffed and blindfolded men, representing Uyghurs, covered with red barbed wire. “Stop the genocide, the torture, the rape, the forced labor,” the shoes read.
Badiucao said his collaboration with Kanter focused on appealing to Western companies that could benefit from China’s oppression of Uyghurs.
“We have every right to point out how hypocritical these brands, factories and companies are – on the one hand they try to sell more sneakers, falsely chanting ‘Black Lives Matter’ but on the other hand, the same problem , racism is even worse, it is a genocide taking place in China against the minorities there, and they are silent, ”he said.“ This is something unacceptable. “
Kanter put Nike and Nike-sponsored basketball superstars LeBron James and Michael Jordan in his sights – contrasting sharply for their support for social justice and anti-hate movements in the United States but an apparent silence on human rights in China.
“How about booking plane tickets for us and flying to China together,” Kanter tweeted Tuesday, tagging Nike, James and Jordan. “We can try to visit these SLAVE labor camps and you can see it with your own eyes.”
Nike has previously said it makes sure that no slave labor is used in its Chinese manufacturing supply chain, responding to a report released in March that found factories under contract with the company of shoes employed Uyghurs who appeared to work under coercive conditions.
Badiucao said he grew up in China inspired by Jordan – “I remember my cousin and myself so obsessed with the man who can fly in the sky, it makes us believe we can fly too” – and think athletes have a powerful platform to talk about politics.
“I think athletes… have a much bigger role than just being a TV showman or playing on the pitch, they actually inspire people in real life,” he said.
The NBA’s relationship with China is a lightning rod of controversy, where billions of dollars in multi-level deals between the league, athletes, brands and the Chinese state are caught up in the freedom of speech debate. expression and preservation of human rights.
In 2019, Daryl Morey – then manager of the Houston Rockets – sparked a backlash from Beijing when he tweeted his support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, leading to NBA games blocked or censored by Chinese broadcasters.
The league is also under scrutiny by congressional lawmakers, raising concerns that athletes are contracting with Chinese companies that could include forced Uyghur labor in their supply chains.
“Complicity in forced labor does not conform to US values or US law. NBA players serve as unofficial ambassadors admired and imitated around the world, and we hope their decisions on approvals reflect the values of the NBPA, ”the Congressional Executive Commission on China (CCCB), a bipartisan committee of House and Senate lawmakers tasked with monitoring the status of human rights and the rule of law in China, wrote to the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) on Oct. 19.
The NBPA did not respond to a request for comment from The Hill.
Kanter declined to be interviewed for this article, saying he wanted to stay focused on the human rights conversation.
But the basketball player said he supports the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Law, a bill that would impose strict limitations and surveillance on imports from areas of China documented as oppressing minorities like Uyghur, Kazakh minorities. and Kyrgyz.
The legislation was passed by the Senate in July with bipartisan support, but has yet to be passed by the House. The New York Times reported in November 2020 that companies like Nike and Coca-Cola were pushing to weaken the bill – accuses the companies of refuting.
Martina McLennan, spokesperson for Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleyOvernight Energy & Environment – Brought to you by American Clean Power – Democrats Prepare to Grill Oil Leaders Senate Democrats propose sanctions for Federal Reserve officials who violate the Merkley Code of Ethics, Warren and Markey sound the alarm on ‘dirty’ hydrogen supply in climate deal MORE (D-Ore.), President of the CCCB, said the senator had met Kanter on human rights issues and “greatly appreciates that he used his platform to draw attention to serious human rights violations committed by Uyghurs, Tibetans and other minorities in China. oriented. “
Badiucao said it was even more urgent to engage athletes in human rights conversations in China given the 2022 Winter Olympics to be held in Beijing in February.
The CCCBs have called on the International Olympic Committee to postpone and move the Winter Olympics if Beijing does not stop its campaign of genocide and crimes against humanity.
Badiucao said athletes should be empowered to speak up if they feel comfortable doing so, but added that the majority of the responsibility should lie with companies and corporate sponsors of the Olympics.
“They should make a very clear statement to justify their sponsor of Olympic games like this, which is organized by a dictatorship that is committing genocide against people right now,” he said.
On Saturday, Kanter tweeted a photo of a new pair of sneakers painted by Tibetan-American artist Khenzom Alling. The sneakers display a clear message: “No Beijing 2022”.
The genocidal Chinese government and the uncertain tyrant behind it all
XI JINPING should not be allowed to host the next Olympic Winter Games.
– Enes Kanter (@EnesKanter) October 30, 2021