(Updated!) A Call to Free Ai Weiwei, Artist, Architect, Activist

Ai Weiwei with Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia (Courtesy Melissa Lam)

Ai Weiwei with Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia (Courtesy Melissa Lam)

(Updated 4-6-2011) As details emerge, be sure to track the comments on this post for the latest on Ai Weiwei. We have learned that the US State Department called for his release on Monday. According to VOA News, Mark Toner, State Department Acting Deputy Spokesman saud, “The detention of artist and activist Ai Weiwei is inconsistent with the fundamental freedoms and human rights of all Chinese citizens, including China’s commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and we urge the Chinese government to release him immediately.” Today, the Guardian reported that Ai Weiwei is under investigation for “suspected economic crimes” according to the Chinese state news agency Xinhua which has since deleted the statement.

AN also received the following note of support for Ai Weiwei from Richard Meier. Please feel free to voice your messages of support in the comments.

Ai Weiwei deserves all of our support in his efforts to communicate with the world community of architects about the conditions that currently exist in China. We all hope that his immediate release will happen quickly in response to comments from all of us that support him in his cause.

Sincerely yours,

Richard Meier

(Original Report 4-4-2011) News that Chinese artist, architect, and activist Ai Wei Wei has been detained and disappeared as of April 3, 2011 broke yesterday in the International media.  As reported by Andrew Jacobs in the New York Times, and more recently today by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, his detention and police closure of his Beijing studio coincides with what is known as the “Jasmine Revolution,” a protest movement in the People’s Republic of China that was inspired by the 2011 Tunisian Revolution and has prompted the Communist Party’s six-week crackdown on human rights lawyers and activists, with many of those detained still not released, and others, such as pro-democracy writer Liu Xianbin, sentenced to 10 years in jail for subversion.

While his arrest is not unexpected, and indeed was anticipated by Wei Wei and others in his community, it is a devastating and saddening blow that follows upon the forced demolition of his Shanghai studio in January of this year, his recent house arrest in the wake of Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel Peace Prize, and his beating by Chinese police in August 2009, with emergency brain surgery required.

Wei Wei, the son of revered Chinese poet Ai Qing (regarded as one of the finest modern Chinese poets and himself imprisoned by the Chinese Communist Party), is internationally recognized for his cultural and architectural practice as well as his tireless activism on behalf of social justice and political reform in China.

His many projects include the Bird’s Nest (2008), a landmark design for the Beijing Olympic National Stadium (together with Herzog and De Meuron); Fairytale (2007), in which he sent 1001 Chinese citizens to 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 May 2008, many as a result of poor maintenance of school buildings.

His 2010 “Sunflower Seeds” exhibition, currently on display at Tate Modern, features 100 million porcelain seeds made in the Chinese city of Jingdezhen and forms a seemingly infinite landscape in the museum’s Turbine Hall.  As a commentary on the relationship between the individual and the masses, the project explores the geo-politics of cultural and economic exchange and, as curator Juliet Bingham has remarked, invites us to consider such questions as “What does it mean to be an individual in today’s society?”

We urge the Chinese government to respect Wei Wei’s health and to insure his safety, and to release him immediately.  His detainment and disappearance is a great tragedy and devastating blow to the international community.  Wei Wei is an artist that feels a great love and compassion for China and her people, and we urge the Chinese government to recognize this fact and allow him and his family the freedom if not to speak freely, then to at least leave.

We strongly encourage you to raise your voice and to contact your elected representatives, government contacts, and civic institutions, to advocate for official statements and positions on his behalf as well as all of those that have been detained these last weeks in response to the Jasmine Revolution.

13 Responses to “(Updated!) A Call to Free Ai Weiwei, Artist, Architect, Activist”

  1. Richard Torchia says:

    Thanks for this important post and for encouraging immediate action against this injustice. We are traveling a show we organized of Ai Weiwei’s inconoclastic ceramic work and want to do whatever we can.

    Richard Torchia
    Director
    Arcadia University Art Gallery

  2. Aaron Levy says:

    After a long day of emails and phone calls with the US State Department and others, I’m pleased to report that the United States has quickly joined French and German officials and the growing international community calling for his immediate release:

    http://www.voanews.com/english/news/asia/US-Calls-on-Beijing-to-Release-Chinese-Artist-Ai-Weiwei-119218364.html

  3. william menking says:

    This is really good news!

  4. seth edenbaum says:

    Ai will show you blueprints, sign a contract, and build something different and cheaper (paying for a wall of glass you’ll get three foot windows) and pocket the difference with his contractor. There are people for more deserving of release from Chinese prisons on grounds of morality, but not of impact. He’s is a rock star with fans and acolytes and when he chooses to cause trouble he can do it.

    Ai is a Duchampian con man, a trickster capitalist. I don’t have to like him to like his work. But I don’t have to approve of it to like it. That’s why it’s art.

  5. Aaron Levy says:

    UPDATE (April 6, 2011): We’ve spoken to a number of high-level diplomats and governmental officials based in China and elsewhere who have encouraged us to keep Ai Weiwei’s detainment covered in the press.

    One of the most informed legal assessments of the situation and what to expect in the days ahead that we have yet encountered is by Jerome Cohen, of the U.S.-Asia Law Institute. Through its cooperation with Asian legal reformers, the U.S.-Asia Law Institute is in a unique position to provide real-world insight into the actual progress of legal reform in China and to assist in shaping the future of that reform: http://www.usasialaw.org/?p=5342

    Watch an excerpt from one of Ai Weiwei’s last interviews, with Dan Rather, just before he was disappeared, in which he speaks movingly about the possibility of his detainment and the events he now faces. Towards the end of the interview segment, he mentions the importance of thinking creatively in relation to the political. Many of the grassroots tactics that we’ve been receiving word about that over the last 24 hours from the streets of Beijing, from online netizens in China, and elsewhere involve modifications of the phrase, “Love the Future.” As the China Digital Times has recently reported, this “looks and sounds very similar to Ai Weiwei’s name, and many netizens have immediately adopted this new coded phrase to post on Sina Weibo as a form of protest; many of those “love the future” messages have also been quickly deleted.”

  6. Aaron Levy says:

    And here’s an excerpt from one of Ai Weiwei’s last interviews, with Dan Rather, just before he was disappeared, in which he speaks movingly about the possibility of his detainment, and the events he now faces:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NAGVzJRFlhs

    He mentions towards the end the importance of creativity in relation to the political. Many of the grassroots tactics that we’ve been receiving word about that over the last 24 hours on the streets of Beijing, online by the netizens, in Hong Kong and elsewhere involve modifications of the phrase, “Love the Future” (爱未来).

    As the China Digital Times has reported, this “looks and sounds very similar to Ai Weiwei’s name (艾未未), and many netizens have immediately adopted this new coded phrase to post on Sina Weibo as a form of protest; many of those “love the future” messages have also been quickly deleted.” For more, read:

    http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2011/04/love-the-future-netizens-show-support-for-ai-weiwei/

  7. Wendy Moonan says:

    IS THERE AN ONLINE PETITION ONE COULD SIGN?

  8. Aaron Levy says:

    An informative report on the over 30 individuals like Ai Weiwei that since mid-February have been disappeared, along with the more than 26 that have been criminally detained, and the more than 200 under soft detention, was recently issued by Chinese Human Rights Defenders and can be found online here:
    http://chrdnet.org/2011/03/31/escalating-crackdown-following-call-for-%E2%80%9Cjasmine-revolution%E2%80%9D-in-china/

  9. Aaron Levy says:

    Xinhuanet.com just briefly reported that Ai Weiwei was now under investigation for suspected economic crimes, but in a matter of minutes that was quickly taken down (“Sorry, this news has been deleted”).

    A screenshot, at least for the time being, can be found here:
    http://ww3.sinaimg.cn/large/61b09dacjw1dfzatdftv6j.jpg

  10. Aaron Levy says:

    Word is just arriving from Melissa Lam in Hong Kong about a major protest march that will take place there on April 10th, organized by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China. It will begin at 11am from the Western Police Station in Hong Kong, and will proceed to the China Liason Office.

    For more information in Chinese, visit the Alliance’s website (http://www.alliance.org.hk/). An English language translation is available on the Slought Foundation site (http://slought.org).

    A “Free Ai Weiwei” facebook page, available in English and accessible to public posting, has also been created and is being used as an active exchange of news feeds and other information.

  11. Peter Weibel says:

    The idea of democracy is human rights for everybody. Ai Weiwei fought for this idea, therefore we fight for Ai Weiwei.

  12. seth edenbaum says:

    My point was not simple cynicism.
    Juliano Mer-Khamis was killed last week.
    http://twitpic.com/4h9wvb

    That means more to me than the arrest of an oligarch, even if on trumped up charges.

  13. Andrew Lowe says:

    I created a poster in support of Ai Weiwei: http://bit.ly/lCOAl7

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