Tuesday, April 5, 2011

UPDATED 6th April: standing up as an artist!

image:Pascal Petit

Ai Weiwei Chinese Artist Ai Weiwei holds some seeds from his Unilever Installation 'Sunflower Seeds'  at The Tate Modern on October 11, 2010 in London, England. The sculptural installation comprises 100 million handmade porcelain replica sunflower seeds. Visitors to the Turbine Hall  will be able to walk on the work - which opens on October 12, 2010 and runs until May 2, 2011.
Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei -Peter McDairmid - Getty Images Europe

Text below is from my Tumblr blog: seeds capsules this morning!

Sophie Munns - In October I blogged on eminent Chinese artist Ai Weiwei here. H’ed just had a show open at the Tate Modern - “A field of sunflower seeds”.

Ai Weiwei: ‘I have to speak for people who are afraid’

This autumn, Ai Weiwei, China’s most outspoken artist, will take over Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall. He talks about how his art and politics are indistinguishable
****In the light of this it is extremely worrying to read he has been detained in his own country.

Notes from the Ted website (April 4th, 2011) that accompany the film:

The news that Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has been detained by authorities has prompted significant concern here at TED HQ. We had shown a film of him at last month’s conference, an unexpected and courageous statement about his treatment by the government, social change, the power of the web, and his hope for the future of China. The film, which was shown as Ai Weiwei himself watched live over the web in the middle of the night, prompted a huge standing ovation from the TED audience.
TED is a nonpartisan, nonpolitical organization, and we understand the Chinese authorities’ concern at anything which might provoke social unrest. But for anyone who believes in the power of ideas, of human imagination, it is heartbreaking to see one of the world’s great artists shackled in this way. We will be tracking developments carefully. Here is the film.
– Chris Anderson

Correction: I think the show was titled simply "sunflower seeds"
Ai Weiwei - Ai Wei Wei 'So Sorry' Exhibition Opening

Wednesday morning (6th April) Commenter Marguerite Scaife added a link to this facebook page which takes you to  various petitions and news items, twitter links and so on.
Once there I found these important links:


An Artist Takes Role of China’s Conscience

Radio Free Asia:
15 Years Bringing Free Press to Closed Societies

Campaign For Detained Artist

Netizens launch blitz for the 'fat guy.'

Ai holds a piece of debris after authorities demolished
his newly built Shanghai studio, January 11, 2011.

Chinese netizens braved official censorship to launch a campaign on Monday in support of detained prominent artist and social activist Ai Weiwei amid international calls for his release.

In spite of direct censorship of Ai's name on the popular microblogging platform Sina Weibo, netizens managed to launch an "event" titled "Looking for a fat guy called Ai," garnering dozens of followers within a short space of time.

"Sometimes, life throws mysterious and unexpected things our way. For example, you wouldn't expect someone suddenly just to disappear," the event description read a day after Ai was detained at a Beijing airport while trying to catch a flight to Hong Kong.

"Would you just relax and go with the flow, or would you go looking for him? I firmly believe that you will understand the meaning of this event," it said

Ai, 57, is a top artist who helped design Beijing's Bird's Nest Stadium for the 2008 Olympics, and is currently exhibiting his "Sunflower Seeds" installation at London's Tate Modern gallery.

An inveterate Twitter user himself, Ai has taken part in a number of campaigns to protect the most vulnerable in Chinese society, including an online memorial installation which recorded the names of thousands of children killed in the collapse of school buildings during the devastating 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

On Twitter, which is blocked by China's Great Firewall, hundreds of users still managed to sign up to a petition calling for Ai's release.

"Venerable Ai, the Venerable Ai is calling you home for dinner!," wrote user luanshifusheng on Sina Weibo, echoing recent campaigns to release detained activists across China.

"I asked my conscience, and I had to take part in this event," wrote user Yidaoyongchezhouhang on the Sina event listing.

"Often Climbs the Wall" wrote: "Fatty Ai, did you know that thousands of grass-mud horses [netizens against censorship] are worrying about you and looking for you?"
"Fatty" is considered a term of endearment in China.

"The best gift for us would be if Ai could return home," tweeted @yangguangsaner2011.

House search

Ai's wife said police had searched the couple's Beijing home cum studio after his disappearance on Sunday.

His assistant said in an interview on Sunday Ai was stopped by airport officials as he tried to board the Hong Kong flight with a group of employees.

He is believed to be most high profile activist detained so far in an ongoing government crackdown on dozens of bloggers, human rights lawyers and writers.

The crackdown on government critics was launched since anonymous calls for a "Jasmine Revolution" in China partly inspired by pro-democracy movements in the Middle East began circulating online in mid-February.

"After they were done searching, they confiscated some things and made me sign for them, and they took me down to the police station to make a statement," Ai's wife Lu Qing said on Monday.

"I asked them where he was, but they all said they didn't know."

Lu said the police had taken Ai's computer and some papers.

"Computer, DVDs, hard drive and papers. There was no way to carry on working after they took everything," she said.

Beijing-based rights lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan, who was himself detained at the weekend, said it was still unclear whether Ai would be formally charged.

"Normally, they detain you for 12 hours for a summons," Liu said. "I don't know right now what legal process they have set in motion."

He said that detentions lasting more than 48 hours should result in criminal charges, but that the recent crackdown had seen a number of 'disappearances' with no charges brought against detainees.

"There are some people who have been held for more than 40 days without being formally detained," Liu said. "It's very hard to tell right now if they are subjecting him to some kind of house arrest."


Ai's detention made headline news around the world, sparking condemnation from the French and German governments.

"I appeal to the Chinese government to urgently provide clarification and I expect Ai Weiwei to be released immediately," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in a statement on Monday.

France also called for Ai's release. "We are very concerned about the fate of the militant artist Ai Weiwei and we are following his situation and that of his family very closely," foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said.

"We hope he will be released as soon as possible," he told reporters.

Meanwhile, the Tate Gallery said in a statement: "We are dismayed by developments that again threaten [Ai]'s right to speak freely as an artist, and hope that he will be released immediately."

Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said it was concerned about Ai's fate.

"The Chinese government is stepping up its harassment of the remaining prominent dissidents and is trying to silence all of its critics," the group said in a statement on its website.

"We urge the international community to react firmly to the arrests of bloggers and cyber-dissidents that are taking place at an unprecedented rate," it said.

One of Ai’s assistants told RSF that Ai was arrested at the airport as he was going through immigration, the group said.

The authorities separated him from the people accompanying him and turned off his mobile phone, it added.

Moving base to Germany

Police had visited Ai's studio in Beijing's Caochangdi district several times last week, prompting Ai to say he planned to move his work base to Germany.

"It's very discouraging what's happening here and if I want to continue to develop my work, I have to find a base," he told Agence France-Presse.

Eight of Ai's employees were held for questioning on Monday and later released, RSF said.

"When a Guardian reporter used a mobile phone to photograph the outside of Ai’s studio, plainclothes police seized the phone and deleted the photo," RSF said. "They also told him to leave."

It said all mention of Ai’s arrest has been deleted from Chinese news sites.

According to RSF, 77 cyber-dissidents and 30 journalists are currently being detained in China, which ranked 171st out of 178 countries in its 2010 press freedom index.

Reported in Mandarin by Xin Yu for RFA's Mandarin service, and by Grace Kei Lai-see for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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iNdi@na said...

the whirled makes less and less sense

Robyn said...

:-( that's not good news... I hope he is free again soon.

Beautiful work.


Sophie Munns said...

India & Robyn,
after that story about the australian detained of late in China for his writing this was pretty disturbing news.

Ai WeiWei's a brave man and would have seen this as a likely outcome ...Shall have to keep posted on how the international community responds.

Appreciate you both leaving comments!

Lucy said...

saw that last night on sbs...thought of you immediately...

thinking good thought for him and his safety...we live in such a different world down here.

Sophie Munns said...

Glad you popped in Lucy...and also saw it on SBS!

He has become globally much revered so they will surely need to tread very carefully.... join you in thoughts of his safety and overcoming!
S x

La Dolce Vita said...

just saw this on the news, very disturbing and I pray he is freed soon...

marguerite scaife said...

Hi Sophie. Thanks for posting this. For those on Facebook, there is also a page to show your support:

Sophie Munns said...

lets hope the Chinese Govt feels enough pressure to release this artist. Unthinkable otherwise!

Thanks for the Facebook link which I also noted contains links to Twitter and other sites and initiatives to free Ai Weiwei. Muxh appreciated!

anni said...

I admire your blog !

layers said...

Yes, artists in China certainly have a difficult time expressing their art-- that lack of freedom of speech is so disturbing. on a side note, I did read somewhere that those sunflower seeds had to be cleaned up- when people walked on them they shattered and broke and created a lot of dust-- too bad.

Sophie Munns said...

thank you Anni...
its was such a treat to pop over and see your blog about life in Belgium... would be great to visit in real life!

Sophie Munns said...

Yes ...I saw that too Donna... I think it was realised within days of opening and so the roping off of the exhibit would have stopped that damage and subsequent problem of dust. I read yesterday that despite being fenced off has been one of the most loved exhibitions ever... huge numbers came to see it and were fascinated with its symbolism and the story of the making.

What happens to dissident voices is appalling!

We are humans before we are artists as I see it... and to 'disappear' someone for not toting the party line ...
That is a society in great trouble.

soraya nulliah said...

Sophie-thank you so much for posting this. It really makes me appreciate the many freedoms I have...and take for granted on a daliy basis. I hope he is freed!-Soraya

Sophie Munns said...

great to hear from you on this Soraya. We can easily take for granted most aspects of our daily lives.... I know I do all too often.
Lets keep fingers crossed ...its pretty worrying! Hard to know how they'll go with this one as the world's press and networks are coming down hard and I've read that the Chinese Govt has been issuing warnings for this to stop ....or they willl retalliate????
Dont know ...Ai as such a vocal following!

em said...

i had heard this on the radio! so hard to be chinese!

Sophie Munns said...

Yes... well said Em!