Ai Weiwei: Where Art Meets Activism

Chinese global art phenomenon Ai Weiwei is nearing the second week of detention for speaking out against alleged corruption and human rights abuses within the Chinese government. On 3 April, Ai was arrested just before catching a flight to Hong Kong and has been detained since. His family has yet to be informed of his whereabouts and state of health. The public outcry has been of enormous, with international governments, human rights groups and art institutions, among others, calling for Ai’s release.

Ai Weiwei’s human rights activism has become inexorably linked with his art work and fame. Exhibitions such as Fuck Off (2000), So Sorry (2009) and Sunflower Seeds (2010) share the element of protest against authority, government irresponsibility towards the people and mass industrialization. Supporting an investigation into student casualties in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, aiming to expose an alleged corruption scandal in the construction of the collapsed schools, Ai has been beaten by the police and hospitalized for a cerebral hemorrhage believed to be linked to the attack. The investigation aimed to compile a list of students killed in the earthquake by 12 May 2009, the earthquake’s first anniversary. As of 14 April 2009, the list had accumulated 5,385 names. Ai published the collected names as well as numerous articles documenting the investigation on his blog which has been shut down in May 2009.

The 53-year-old artist has found an effective way of making a statement for freedom of expression through the use of social media. An extraordinary number of tweets has earned him cult status on the web and has facilitated the involvement in his cause of a vast like-minded audience coming from all walks of life. Obsessively documenting his surroundings, he has turned invasive objects such as surveillance cameras, installed by the authorities to keep an eye on him, into positive statements against oppression through contemporary art. He retaliated by turning his own cameras to observe the police and has even turned the tearing down of his studio complex by the authorities into a victory of the creative spirit by documenting the demolition and putting the pictures online.

As the cloud of silence by the Chinese authorities continues to envelop Ai Weiwei, the world keeps a watchful eye. Missing since his arrest, is Ai’s assistant Wen Tao. His accountant, as well as studio partner Liu Zhenggang and driver Zhang Jingsong, have also disappeared since 9 April.

Please click the links below to sign a petition for Ai Weiwei’s release

http://www.change.org/petitions/call-for-the-release-of-ai-weiwei

 and to see the PBS special on upcoming documentary Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, produced and directed by Alison Klayman:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/ai-wei-wei/

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