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China: Ai’s Arrest Irrelevant to Thriving Art Community

Ai Weiwei protest graffiti in Hong Kong (image via theatlanticwire.com)

Finishing off this week with some Ai Weiwei news, the story continues to develop. China says Ai’s arrest has nothing to do with freedom of expression, Ai’s rocker friend is returned following a disappearance, academy Chinese artist Xu Bing disavows a relationship with politics.

Reuters reports that the Chinese embassy in London has stated that the artist’s arrest “has nothing to do with freedom of expression and the art scene in China is thriving,” much to the chagrin of everyone else on the planet. What is apparent is that though the government is attempting to pose Ai’s arrest as justified by a simple crime (tax evasion?), it is majorly motivated by the desire to suppress a dissident.

Ai’s friend and musician Zuoxiao Zuzhou, has reappeared after vanishing from a Hong Kong airport earlier this week. The musician has publicly supported Ai’s release and declaimed his arrest.

Financial Times has interviewed Chinese artist Xu Bing, a major artistic figure on the level of Ai Weiwei within China and famed in the international art world as well. Xu is the vice president of the China Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, a major state-controlled art university and perhaps the most significant art school in China. Xu was “not willing to discuss Ai’s fate or anything that could be considered “political” or “sensitive”.” The article reads:

“My work doesn’t have too much direct and obvious political content,” Xu says in his soft, well-educated Mandarin. “I really don’t know about Ai Weiwei’s situation and I’m not really interested in politics, although I’m certainly interested in the human condition in general.”

Xu’s art is more invested in aesthetics than political conflict; he has become integrated into mainstream Chinese art discourse in a way that Ai Weiwei has not, in part for reasons of political sensitivity and willingness to speak out. Yet Xu has still stated in the past that if China can’t deal with a figure like Ai Weiwei, it has a problem. This conversation again brings up the issue that the domestic Chinese art community perceives Ai in a different way (as a maverick, for better or worse) than we do in the US.

Related:

  • Guerrilla projectors splashed Ai’s name and face onto landmark buildings in Hong Kong as another form of protest.
  • Chinese human rights lawyers are shuffling in and out of detention. Teng Biao is released as others are arrested.
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