[April 7 2011]
News that Chinese artist, activist and philosopher Ai WeiWei has been detained as of last Sunday has caused outrage across the world, and particularly with the US, French and German governments who, along with the international art community, have called for his release.
Ai WeiWei disappeared while passing through security check at Beijing airport for a flight to Hong Kong (police later raided his Beijing studio, confiscating hundreds of items and questioning assistants and family). The news is especially alarming in light of brutality towards the 53 year-old artist in August 2009 when the Chinese police beat him to the point to which he had to undergo emergency brain surgery.
Ai WeiWei is a world renowned cultural figure whose work includes the Bird’s Nest, a landmark design for the Beijing Olympic National Stadium in collaboration with Herzog & de Meuron; Fairytale, in which he sent 1001 Chinese citizens to Documenta in Kassel, Germany as a cross-cultural exchange; and the Sichuan Earthquake Names Project, which sought to uncover the names of the thousands of schoolchildren who died in the Sichuan earthquake of 2008 as a result of poor school building maintenance. His Sunflower Seeds exhibition is now on display at Tate Modern, featuring 100 million porcelain seeds made in the Chinese city of Jingdezhen.
Ai WeiWei’s disappearance is part of the Communist Party’s crackdown on human rights lawyers, activists and artists. Other prominent figures who have been unfairly detained or jailed include last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winer, Liu Xiaobo, who is serving an 11-year prison sentence for subversion and Feng Xue, an American geologist accused of stealing so-called state secrets.
Text Sabine Heller and Photo Hugo Tillman