Prominent Chinese artist Ai Weiwei was detained by police in Beijing’s airport on April 3rd while attempting to board a flight to Hong Kong. He continues to be held in police custody, with little information released about the events surrounding his arrest. (Learn more about the accusations here.) A longtime human rights activist, Ai openly criticizes the Chinese government and risks his personal safety to expose governmental misconduct. Active since the late 70’s and early 80’s, he has become increasingly more outspoken throughout his 30-year artistic career, which has caused him to become the subject of sustained, intense scrutiny by the Chinese government.
Ai WeiWei is one of dozens of activists taken into custody by the Chinese government since February. Fearing an uprising akin to those in the Middle East and North Africa, the government began to preemptively take into custody the most prominent human rights activists in China.
To show support for Ai and hopefully hasten his release, a petition has been created by an international group of art museum directors. Sign the petition here. In London, Tate Modern is currently exhibiting a 2010 installation by the artist entitled Sunflower Seeds, and has become a location for outcry against his arrest.
Ai Weiwei’s activism is tied to his art. In 2008, an earthquake in Sichuan, China, caused poorly built schools to collapse, killing thousands of local school children. When the government failed to publish the names or amount of deceased students, Ai and other activists began to investigate to uncover the truth—that Sichuan officials allowed for the construction of unsafe schools. Ai was beaten by the police in 2009 while preparing to testify in the trial of Tan Zuoren, a writer and activist who was also conducting research about the events in Sichuan. Despite this act of violence, Ai WeiWei continued to commemorate the students that died. His installation tiled the façade of the museum with backpacks, which spelled out in Chinese characters “She lived happily for seven years in this world,” a statement by a mother of a victim in the Sichuan earthquake.