At 1 pm EST today near the Chinese embassy in Manhattan, out by the water at 520 Twelfth Avenue, a congregation of chairs gathered. Members of the city’s art world, community members and human rights activists came out in force, to the tune of a few hundred, to protest for the release of Ai Weiwei, the internationally-famed artist who has been detained by the Chinese government for the past two weeks without charge.
Located in a fenced-off area just off the water, protesters staged a sit-in in homage to Ai’s 2007 piece “Fairytale,” which saw the artist bring 1,000 Chinese to Kassel, Germany and let them loose during a major art exhibition. Within the tent that formed the Chinese travelers’ dorms, Ai installed 1,001 Ming and Qing dynasty chairs. This protest, named “1,001 Chairs for Ai Weiwei,” didn’t quite match the scale of the original, but artists and activists alike used the gesture, plus an array of homemade signs, to send a statement in support of Ai Weiwei. As Anne Pasternak of Creative Time (who organized the protest) said to the crowd, “Our goal is to keep the story alive.” By keeping the problem of Ai’s detention in the public eye, mounting pressure is put on the Chinese government to clarify the artist’s situation.
Sadly, while I was present, protesters didn’t have access to the embassy itself. Anne Pasternak was seen negotiating with police and mayoral staff to get seated protesters in front of the nondescript building for a final photo-op, but the process seemed difficult.
What was meant as a gesture in support of the artist was also crowded by the political nature of the protest — past the main body of art world community members was a blue-hatted crew of representatives from the Democratic Party of China, a vehemently anti-government group who were heard shouting about how Mao Zedong and Communism destroyed China. Some protesters wanted to march, to the chanted tune of “Free Ai Weiwei,” but they didn’t get far: the protest area was small and largely fenced in. Others, who I felt most in tune with, were content to sit peacefully.
Other protests for Ai Weiwei took place all over the world today, at Chinese embassies in Berlin as well as a very small contingent in Washington DC. As we get word of more protest actions, we’ll update this post.
- See Culture Monster for photos and a report from the LA outing of the Ai Weiwei protest.
- Eyeteeth has a collection of protest photos from all over the world, to London and back.
- 16 Miles of String has a nice set of photos from the New York City protest, with a shot of empty chairs lined up in front of the Chinese embassy.
- In other Ai Weiwei news, the artist’s arrest inspired a Time listicle of the “Top 10 Persecuted Artists”. The weird title is bad enough, but the list also includes no women artists. Hmmm.
- Alison Klayman reports that NYU will be screening a documentary about Ai Weiwei’s “Fairytale,” the piece that inspired April 17’s protest actions, tonight (April 18) at 20 Cooper Square.
- From blog iGreen come some more shots of the Los Angeles Ai Weiwei protests, which drew around 40 people.
- Artist Bo Bartlett sent us this photo of Betsy Eby protesting on Vashon Island in Washington.
Photos From the New York City Protest:
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Some pics I took:
Very nice shots, glad you could catch the group with the chairs in front of the embassy. Anne was really running all over the place.
Thanks Kyle. I don’t know Anne, I’m assuming it was the lady helping to organize? Good job all round!
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