Ningxia’s Yinchuan Musuem of Contemporary Art has removed the work of artist-activist Ai Weiwei from an exhibition at the last minute, citing pressure from officials. The New York Times’ Javier C. Hernandez reports:
Mr. Ai had become obsessed with a red scribble that appeared on a planning document for an art show next month in Yinchuan, a city in northwest China. He decided to build a large sculpture modeled on the line that he would call “Redline” — a playful rumination on the idea of censorship.
But this week, the artistic director of the Yinchuan Museum of Contemporary Art, Suchen Hsieh, sent Mr. Ai a cryptic message:
“Bose [Krishnamachari, Indian artist and curator of the biennale] and I invited you to participate in this year’s Yinchuan Biennale because we sincerely admire your artwork. But things change in this world. Even though your project is full of philosophical awareness, an artist’s prestige overshadows his work. The autumn wind is blowing around us. The museum has no choice but to rescind its invitation to you. It’s very unfortunate that the conditions don’t allow us to display your artwork.
“This is the second time I must clasp my hands together and bow to you from afar. Please accept my deep apologies.”
[…] Mr. Ai designed the sculpture so that the shadow it cast would form the silhouette of “Hanging Man,” an earlier work by Mr. Ai in which he used a clothes hanger to recreate a profile of the artist Marcel Duchamp. He is using steel rods collected from the rubble of a devastating earthquake in Sichuan Province in 2008 to build the sculpture.
“It’s not political and it is political at the same time,” Mr. Ai said in the interview. [Source]
Ai’s provocative earlier work focused on the victims of the 2008 disaster, and his subsequent 81-day detention in 2011, is documented in the 2012 film “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry.”
On Instagram, Ai posted a response denouncing government censorship and efforts by the Chinese state to co-opt art for political purposes.
I have just learnt that my artwork has been excluded due to my “political sensitivity”. Censorships in communist regions have been present since the existence of the power. Yet it still comes as a surprise to me for an “international art biennale”, with over a hundred international artists and a foreign curator participating, to remove a single artist for the reason of defending human rights and freedom of speech. This shows what we face is a world which is divided and segregated by ideology, and art is used merely as a decoration for political agendas in certain societies. China is trying to develop into a modern society without freedom of speech, but without political arguments involving higher aesthetic morals and philosophies, art is only served as a puppet of fake cultural efforts.
Therefore I am happy not to be a part of that effort as a political decoration. I believe the real effort we should make, is in defending freedom of speech for our humanism. Only by doing so, art is worth making. [Source]
Ai is an active user on Instagram, and has used the platform to highlight the plight of refugees in Europe, where he has been based since his travel ban was lifted last year. He spoke about his ongoing advocacy efforts in an interview with Masha Goncharova at The New York Times last week:
A: My right to freely travel was restored late last July. Since then I have been busy adjusting myself to life in Berlin, opening myself to a more global culture and political environment. In particular, I have been focusing on the refugee crisis. I have traveled through Greece, visiting the island of Lesbos, where many refugees first step foot in Europe, and the refugee camp at Idomeni along the Greek-Macedonian border. I have gone to Turkey, stopping in Istanbul, Gaziantep and Izmir, a main point of departure for many refugees making the journey across the Aegean Sea. I visited Lebanon, stopping in Beirut and the Shatila slum. I traveled to the areas bordering Syria, in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. I have been to dozens of camps.
Being able to travel has given me a great opportunity to understand these regional issues, to learn about the historical, geographical and political conditions here. I feel fortunate that my restored ability to travel has given me this experience.
[…] Q: How did you get the idea to use Instagram as a medium to document the refugees in Lesbos?
A: I went to Lesbos to experience, firsthand, the refugee situation. The idea only comes when I felt suffocated by the condition. I couldn’t believe what I had seen. There was an inner need to grab that reality, which looked so surreal. When you take a photograph and expose it to social media, such as Instagram, you create another reality that can reach others, to share with them this very real situation. It’s also a challenge to yourself and a challenge to those who follow you. The reality of this refugee situation should be shared. [Source]
See previous CDT posts for more on Ai Weiwei.