Ai Weiwei has not been heard from for or seen in over a week now, but despite the lack of news from the artist, the story of his arrest keeps developing. In this update, a protest is held for Ai in Hong Kong, with a prominent government opposition leader joining in, and Ai’s driver and accountant are also arrested after a visit from police. In a bizarre turn, the Chinese government’s Xinhua news service has accused Ai of plagiarizing the idea for his “Fairytale Project” (performed in Kassel, Germany in 2007) from a lesser known Chinese art professor. The smear campaign is an attempt to distance Ai’s so-called “crimes” from his outspoken political commentary — Ai’s arrest will be easier to justify as a normal, apolitical transgression.
For earlier news of Ai Weiwei’s arrest, see our previous 3 posts linked below. As always, we will update this post with news as it comes, noting updates in the headline. Stay tuned for more.
Post 3: Harvard protest, Tate Modern sign, Ai-inspired street art, Duyan Pili goes in for questioning, translation of tweet summary, photos from the studio post-arrest.
Post 2: Ai Weiwei status still unknown, reporter Wen Tao still missing, US state department and European governments call for Ai’s release.
Post 1: Ai Weiwei arrested, studio searched, studio assistants questioned, Ai’s wife Lu Qing questioned.
April 11, 4 PM EST:
Artist Guo Gai Still Detained, NPR Discusses Ai
- Eyeteeth reports that Chinese artist Guo Gai has been detained since May 24, following a politically-pointed performance responding to the abortive “Jasmine Revolution” at the Beijing Museum of Contemporary Art. “It is believed that Guo was seized for taking photographs during the exhibition,” the post reads. “Guo is also being held in the Taihu Detenion Center, though further details are currently unavailable.” Guo’s arrest is another symptom of the Chinese government’s crackdown on dissidents following the Jasmine Revolution protests. The artist is part of a growing group of detainees that I discussed in “The Other Victim’s of China’s Big Chill Crackdown” on Hyperallergic.
- WBUR’s radio program On Point features Tom Ashbrook discussing Ai’s arrest with Alison Klayman, the documentarian behind Who’s Afraid of Ai Weiwei and Ai Weiwei Never Sorry, New Yorker China correspondent Evan Osnos and Jerome Cohen, a China law scholar and professor at NYU. Listen to audio from the talk on their site.
April 11, 12 PM EST:
Propaganda Wrongly Accuses Ai of Plagiarism
Through the government mouthpiece Xinhua News, the Chinese government has accused Ai of plagiarism in a strange new turn in the case. The article, available in English and titled “Police probe adds to controversy surrounding Ai Weiwei,” is doubtlessly part of a government-mandated smear campaign on the artist’s image both at home and abroad, a campaign that started with the news that Ai was under arrest for “economic crimes” (see Post 3). The government is carefully avoiding any actions that might mean Ai’s arrest is politically motivated (like an accusation of government subversion) and maintaining that the artist simply committed some kind of very mundane crime, one that will be justly punished. The tactic isn’t new, China has brought in several cultural figures on charges of tax evasion of credit card fraud, but this one is surreal even by Chinese standards.
The article notes with a strangely prophetic tone,
Various claims of accusations against Ai surfaced on the Internet within hours of [Ai’s arrest] being announced. The claims, which individuals posted online, accused the artist of dodging income taxes, plagiarizing, and monopolizing funds and resources in the art world, among other things … None of the claims, however, have been independently investigated.
Maybe none have been “independently investigated,” but if the government thinks these crimes exist, then they do. The specific theft that Ai is accused of is stealing the idea for his “Fairytale Project” from Xi’an Academy of Fine Arts professor Yue Luping. Yue “was too poor to realize his plan. Yet he did not receive credit in Ai’s work.” The piece, mounted in conjunction with Documenta 2007 in Kassel, Germany, saw Ai send 1,001 ordinary Chinese citizens to the exhibition in Germany and house them in specifically designed barracks.
The article continues,
“The plagiarism case is widely known among peers, but no one dared to bring it into the open because Ai, with his influence, was considered unchallengeable in art circles,” well-known Chinese novelist Wang Shuo said in a previous post on his blog … Ai is not alone in China’s scandal-dogged arts scene, as a string of artists have been jailed for managing mafia-style gangs, gambling, and committing drug-related and economic crimes in recent years.
This quote brings up Ai’s controversial nature even within China’s art world; many community members feel that Ai really is too much of a maverick, an ego-maniacal freedom fighter whose first concern is his own career and visibility. The article then goes on to smear the Chinese art world, Ai’s artistic relationship to his father, the poet Ai Qing whom the government now favors and Ai’s time in New York in the 80s and 90s, his “erratic behavior.” The article ends with another hedge: “Up to date, authorities have not said that Ai’s radical comments run counter to the law.” In other words, the criminality is all apolitical. Read the entire article, it’s a fascinating exercise in propaganda.
As it turns out, artist Yue Luping didn’t even accuse Ai of plagiarism, this is simply a made-up call by Chinese government propagandists to make Ai look bad. Yue was quoted in the Guardian,
Yue told the Guardian that he had “strong sympathy” for Ai and was worried about him following his detention, and questioned the relevance of the claims.
“I hope he is safe, no matter where he is now. I know that he has not been in good health. I have been paying attention to what he has been doing during the years, and I identify with him. These are completely different matters,” he said.
An article in the (another government mouthpiece) Global Times newspaper also made the case that the “law won’t bend for Ai.” What law that is, we still don’t know.
Ai Protest in Hong Kong
Led by curator Melissa Lam, who had been working with Ai on a project in the city, the Hong Kong art community staged a protest march for Ai Weiwei this past Sunday. The march started at 11 am at the Western District Police Station and proceeded to the China Liaison Office in Kennedy district. Lam wrote in an email message that it was Hong Kong’s unique political relationship to Mainland China that made it important as a center of protest, and cites Ai’s own philosophy as a reason to speak out:
Our protest was particularly meaningful because of the close geographical location of Hong Kong to China ensuring that the Chinese Government would have to take notice of our disagreement with their governing and illegal practices.Ai Wei Wei himself has said the following: ” Only by encouraging individual freedom, or the individual power of the mind, and by trusting our own feelings, can collective acts be meaningful.” I hope that by encouraging many individuals in the art community, local Hong Kong concerned citizens, and legislative councillors to come out to the march, we can effect change. I hope that this protest could do it’s part in encouraging local government officials to take a position.
The Hong Kong protest has joined an ever-growing number of protest actions abroad, including a lively street art campaign that I charted in Post 3, and this awesome protester camping out on top of Ai’s “Sunflower Seeds” project at the Tate’s Turbine Hall. How he got there I don’t know, but what a great image [via Guardian]:
New media and performance artist An Xiao has been mounting a protest piece for Ai Weiwei, using sunflower seeds to count the hours that Ai has been missing. See images on her Flickr. Another Ai Weiwei protest sign was also seen outside the Metropolitan Museum in NYC. Missing posters were spotted in Norway as well.
Ai’s Driver and Accountant Arrested
The Telegraph reports that as part of the ongoing investigation, Ai’s personal driver and accountant have also been arrested after visits from the police. Liu Zhenggang, an architect and Ai’s partner in FAKE studio, is also missing according to studio assistant Duyan Pili.
Website Free Ai Weiwei has the details of the police investigation of Ai’s accountants:
The accounting office of FAKE studio has been searched by police officers from the Beijing Public Security Bureau. No reason was specified. Confiscated items include accounting office computer, book-keeping records, over 20,000 Yuan in cash stored in the safe, cash register, seals, cheques, etc. Officers aggressively threatened Fake’s doorman to assist in investigation. The search lasted for almost 3 hours, the inventory of confiscated items spanned four pages.
- The Guggenheim has started a petition to release Ai Weiwei, along with an international crew of art world figures and museum administrators. The petition is up to over 14,800 signatures, but more are needed, so go sign it.
- Nicholas Bequelin writes in the International Herald Tribune, “Unambiguous messages to Beijing that its conduct is unacceptable and illegal may not guarantee this new crackdown will stop, but a failure to speak up will ensure it continues.” The more international groups speaking out, the better.