Update (April 7, 12:42 pm): Reports today confirm the acknowledgement by Chinese officials of Ai’s arrest for “economic crimes.” Critics are calling the claims absurd, and no formal charges have been announced. Visit The Bare Square for more updates, or follow us on Twitter.
Ai Weiwei is a brilliant Chinese artist and political activist. In China, being an artist may be supported, but being a political activist can put you on the wrong side of a prison wall.
At the request of the Chinese government, Ai also collaborated with the Swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron on the design for Beijing’s Olympic stadium in 2008, known as the Bird’s Nest. The result was a widely acclaimed success.
According to The New York Times, “Then something startling happened: He denounced the Olympics as a feel-good whitewash on China’s repressive, market-hungry government.” Below, watch this video from 2007 with Ai Weiwei about the Bird’s Nest before the 2008 Olympic Games:
Arrested early Sunday morning at Beijing international airport, Ai is now the latest high-profile victim in the suppression of artists by Chinese officials.
Writer, professor and human rights activist also Liu Xiaobo also suffered from repression in China as a political prisoner. Having called for political reforms and the end to communist one-party rule, Liu is currently serving an eleven year sentence in China. Awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize during his fourth prison term for “his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China,” Liu’s incarceration prevented his personal appearance as a recipient, and the government prevented him from sending a representative to accept the prize on his behalf.
This past Sunday, Ai Weiwei was about to board a flight to Hong Kong when taken away by the police. According to the Washington Post, “Police detained Ai on Sunday morning, and his assistants and attorneys said they were concerned that they have not had any communication with him since.”
International free press advocates Reporters Without Borders said that a reporter used a cell phone to take photos of the outside of Ai’s studio after Ai’s Sunday arrest. According the reporter, plainclothes Chinese police seized the phone, deleted the photo, and told him to leave.
All mention of Ai’s arrest have been deleted from Chinese websites, and Beijing police officials deny being aware of his arrest.
A total of 77 cyber-dissidents and 30 journalists are currently detained in China, which is ranked 171st out of 178 countries in the press freedom index that Reporters Without Borders released last October.
According to The New York Times, a large public art project by Ai Weiwei will go on as schedued to occupy the Pulitzer Fountain outside the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan starting early next month whether the artist is still detained or not. AW Asia, a Chinese contemporary art organization coordinating the project, says that the works are finished and have already arrived in New York. Larry Warsh, founder of AW Asia, did say, “I’m very concerned about him and his safety.”