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1001 Chairs Protest for Ai Weiwei This Weekend

Ai Weiwei's “Fairytale” chairs (2007) (image via cimam.org)

International Protest

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has been missing for 12 days without official charge from the Chinese government. In protest, artists and activists all over the world are planning a global sit-in this Sunday, April 17 at 1 pm, staking out Chinese embassies with 1001 Chairs for Ai Weiwei, a take on Ai Weiwei’s 2007 “Fairytale” project in Kassel, Germany.

All over the world, protesters will bring chairs to Chinese embassies and consulates and “sit peacefully” in support of Ai. Spearheaded by New York City’s own Creative Time, the organization writes that “1001 Chairs for Ai Weiwei calls for [Ai’s] immediate release, supporting the right of artists to speak and work freely in China and around the world.” See the event’s Facebook page for details, including gathering places and times all over the world.

With the “Fairytale” project, Ai installed a set of 1001 Ming and Qing dynasty chairs in Kassel, one for each of the 1001 Chinese travelers that the artist also brought to Germany. A gesture of displacement and a representation of the changing Chinese identity, Ai’s work has proved particularly provocative to the Chinese government — state propaganda accused the artist of plagiarizing the idea. Creative Time’s gesture is a powerful echo of the original, backing up the artist and his work.

The New York City Chinese embassy is located at 520 Twelfth Avenue; protesters will be meeting at 1 pm on April 17. I’m compelled to note that the NYC art community will probably be sharing protest space with Falun Gong.

Ai Weiwei protest art in Hong Kong (image via guardian.co.uk)

News Updates

There’s still no official word on Ai Weiwei’s status, nor has the Chinese government charged him with a specific crime. The first rumored charge was economic crimes, then state propaganda accused the artist of plagiarism. The latest news is that Ai is “under investigation for tax evasion, bigamy and spreading porn,” via Hong Kong’s state-backed Wen Wei Po newspaper and Free Ai Weiwei. The article also states that Ai has begun “confessing” to these charges, which seems highly unlikely. The artist’s continued detention without charge is illegal by Chinese law. The rumor of economic crime charges seems to be supported by the fact that police have repeatedly questioned Ai’s wife Lu Qing on the status of the artist’s local and international employees and tax records.

The Guardian has reported that Ai’s family denounced the claims that Ai has confessed to pornography and tax evasion as “absurd.” The Wen Wei Po article seems to be just another attempt at character assassination by the Chinese government following their first attempts with articles in Gobal Times and through Xinhua that we reported on earlier. The Guardian reports,

“This is not evidence. [The government is] using a small paper to push their own position without giving Ai Weiwei any fair ” said [Ai’s] sister Gao Ge. “It’s clearly against the law to hold him for so long without any notice to us … “He has made the government unhappy by speaking up for ordinary people … Now the government wants to get him back.”

Liu Zhenggang, an architect and Ai Weiwei’s partner in FAKE design studio, has been missing since Saturday. Ai’s studio assistant Duyan Pili has reported through Twitter that performance artists Wang Jun and Wen Jie are now missing; the two were planning a protest action for Ai Weiwei this coming Saturday.

Art Asia Pacific has released a statement in support of Ai Weiwei. Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones writes that it’s not that Ai Weiwei who is on trial, it’s China — “Ai Weiwei is not being tested here – not in the eyes of anyone who cares about freedom or justice. His oppressors are the ones who will be judged.” We’ll update as the story develops further.

Resources:

  • Documentarian Alison Klayman speaks with Kurt Andersen on Studio 360 about Ai’s arrest.
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