Friday, April 15, 2011

Ai Weiwei and Gao Zhisheng

Ai Weiwei's Blog: Writings, Interviews, and Digital Rants, 2006-2009 (Writing Art)As many of our Loyal Readers know, our group maintains a vigilant interest in the human rights climate in China due to our on-going advocacy for the Chinese human rights lawyer, Gao Zhisheng who was 'disappeared' by the Chinese government a little over a year ago. So it is with increasing dismay that we have been observing the rash of detentions in the past few weeks. The recent arrests are tracked here by Chinese Human Rights Defenders and via this Guardian interactive feature. Amnesty International offers actions for some of the detained individuals here.  The most prominent of those detained is the artist Ai Weiwei. Amnesty notes in their press release about Ai, “If the authorities are so bold as to grab this world-renowned artist in broad daylight at Beijing airport, it’s frightening to think how they might treat other, lesser known dissidents.” Rather than moving in a direction that we hoped would shed more light on Gao's present location and health condition, the Chinese government seems determined to push a growing number of it's human rights defenders into the shadows.

Just before his arrest, I watched the PBS Frontline documentary about Ai Weiwei and I recommend it A China More Justas a starting point to learn more about this important artist and inspiring activist.  If you missed it, you can watch it a short segment below and the rest on the PBS website which has additional interviews, samples of his Twitter activism, and a slideshow of his art. (The Washington Post and Slate also have good slideshows)  A longer version of this documentary, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, by director Alison Klayman is planned for fall release. I expect our Loyal Readers will be eager to see it in full. Klayman was interviewed by ArtInfo after Ai's detention,
The name of your documentary "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry," and it is true, one thing that is striking is how stubborn the guy is. I wonder if you can make a general comment on the mindset that has led him to stick it out through this kind of persecution.
I really think you can describe his activist efforts, and also his artistic efforts, as tireless. I mean, he will be thorough — once he gets into something, he really gets into something. When he gets into Twitter, he is sending sometimes 300 to 500 Tweets a day. When he undergoes injustice personally in Chengdu, when the police beat him, he continues to gather information and return to Chengdu to seek redress from authorities. When the Sichuan earthquake happened and he was so moved by the tragedy, he didn't just write some blog posts about it and say that was that. He found a way to engage people, to put new information out there. He found all those children's names, and continued to post their birthdays for more than a year afterward on Twitter. When you know him a little and you see that dedication, you really understand how genuine his efforts are. Because you always have to remember, he doesn't have to do any of this. I really think that is one of the messages of the film, and its something you can see if you watch the Frontline piece I did that draws on the same material.
Another interview by Studio 360 available here.
 

Watch the full episode. See more FRONTLINE.


A few more good links for learning about Ai Weiwei:

Evan Osnos of the New Yorker wrote a fascinating profile of the artist, "It's Not Beautiful: An Artist Takes on the System" last year. You can hear him discuss the detention on NPR's On Point. Or if you need to get straight to the point, read this short piece:  "Letter from China: Why Ai Weiwei Matters."

Interesting critic's view of his art.
 
Ai Weiwei's just-released TED talk:



And for the all-important book reference-- a volume compiling Ai's blogging and twittering has just been released from MIT, Ai Weiwei's Blog: Writings, Interviews, and Digital Rants, 2006-2009. The Economist takes a look 

In a separate post, I'll take a look at what some of our favorite authors are saying about the current crackdown on dissent in China.


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