On the third of April the Chinese artist and activist Ai WeiWei, probably best known to most people as part of the design team of the 2008 Bejing Olympic stadium, was taken into custody by Chinese authorities at Beijing airport. He is being investigated by the Chinese authorities for tax evasion, bigamy and spreading pornography on the web, according to a Hong Kong newspaper. His whereabouts remain unknown.
Ai’s arrest didn’t come as a surprise. Over the last months, according to civil rights organizations, 200 dissidents, activists, bloggers, lawyers and writers have been arrested, placed under home arrest or warned for speaking their minds. The Chinese government is preparing for an alternation of power and therefore more alert for potential civil unrest. According to Chinese and foreign diplomatic sources the recent civil uprising in the Arabic world and North-Africa also play a role in the fear for civil unrest and thus these arrests. Read more here.
Ai Weiwei intensively uses the internet to communicate with people all over China, especially the young generation. On his blog, off line now, but collected in this book, he criticized everything from sanctioned cruelty to animals to the Chinese-built railroad to Tibet, which he saw as part of an effort to destroy Tibetan culture. When one of the major Internet portals Sina asked Ai to tone it down because China’s Internet police had given them warnings Ai told them: “I will never do self censorship. Either you close it up or I will continue putting those things up.”
A question posted on Facebook about what we, as an arts community, can do to support the safe release of Ai Weiwei sparked great ideas, including one by the Canadian curator Steven Holmes to reenact Ai Weiwei’s project Fairytale: 1001 Qing Dynasty Wooden Chairs, an installation of 1001 late Ming and Qing Dynasty wooden chairs at Documenta 12 in 2007 in Kassel, Germany.
So on April the seventeenth hundreds of supporters brought a chair and peacefully sat in front of Chinese embassies and consulates around the world demanding the artist’s immediate release.
The protest had a special significance for Berlin artists. Ai had intended to open up a studio in the German capital and had an exhibition planned for the end of the month. Ai’s sister, Gao Ge, doubts the protests will help her brother, but doesn’t think they will make his situation any worse. If Ai will be released I wouldn’t be surprised if he opens that studio in Berlin and never sets a foot in China again.