[April 29 2011]
When a country arrests and detains its artists and liberal thinkers, it is not only a crime against human rights but a negation of the mind. Nearly one month ago, on April 3, the artist and activist Ai WeiWei was arrested at the Beijing airport. Since then, he has not been seen or heard. Detained for alleged economic crimes – a term frequently used by the Communist Party as a legal cover for someone considered a political threat – the government has merely denied that his arrest has anything to do with ‘free expression’. Sit-ins at Chinese embassies have been internationally held, foreign governments and international rights groups have all demanded he be released immediately. Whilst members of his family, employees and friends have been taken into custody and his studio raided, it is the power of Ai Weiwei’s ideas that resonates through the arrests and his disappearance.
Inspired by the revolutionary movements of political upheavel in the Middle East and North Africa, online campaigns demanded political change and protests in China. Yet since February, the authorities’ detentions have spread like fire, silencing the country’s dissidents and obliterating the individual in the face of the law. Never one to shy away from challenging the state, Ai Weiwei is a known agitator and ambassador for free-speech. A member of radical conceptual art-movements in China, Ai Weiwei embodies the artist as public intellectual, articulating his critical commentary as performance art. Ai Weiwei’s detention and arrest are nothing more than barbaric censorship of a regime in fear of losing control. When a discourse speaks a public conscience, ideas can never be imprisoned for long.
In support of Ai WeiWei for his release, a petition has been created by the R. Solomon Guggenheim Foundation supported by the Association of Art Museum Directors; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate, London; Gwangju Biennale, Korea; and the Musée national d’art moderne/Centre de création industrielle, Paris. Most recent news has come that the petition’s hosting website (Change.org) has experienced denial of service attacks from locations in China, making the petition unavailable for several hours. The petition is now available again here. Photo and text Sophie Pinchetti