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For Hong Kong Artists, the Internet Is Freedom’s Last Frontier

By Kelly Go

In 2014, the city-state of Hong Kong was swept up in the Umbrella Revolution.  Its leaders were youth, its medium the internet, and the results were hundreds of thousands of bodies on the street voicing strong political demands including the call for universal suffrage. In Hong Kong, political opinions are commonly discussed online and like many international movements – from Occupy to the Arab Spring to Ukraine’s Orange Revolution — the Internet served as a powerful platform to circulate political opinions and mobilize grassroots movements.

The 2014 revolution also marked the emergence of widespread political “derivative work,” more widely known in North America as ‘memes.’ Rather than reproducing the original, derivative work is “creative art that modifies, appropriates, and/or adapts an earlier work….to parody and comment visually on an event or to caricature a public political figure.” Once created, derivative work is uploaded on social-media platforms like Facebook and Instagram and shared widely. Derivative work is powerful because it is activism framed through images of popular culture, often making previously boring political issues come alive on social media.

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