Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Up Against the 'Great Firewall': Ai Weiwei

My particular moment, it is really personal. If you don't speak out
and you don't clear your mind, then who are you?

If you don't act, the dangers become stronger.
~ Ai Weiwei

The internationally acclaimed Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei was "detained" April 3 at Beijing airport en route to Hong Kong, his studio and home subsequently raided. Weiwei, who has a huge following and uses the Internet to speak out against corruption and abuses, has not been heard from since his arrest. The United States, France, Britain, Germany, and the European Union have condemned the action and called for the artist's release (stories here and here). This is not the first run-in that the high-profile Weiwei has had with his government; it is only the latest manifestation of what appears to be a severe crackdown on activist writers, lawyers, artists, and other dissidents in China.

Last month at a TED conference the video embedded below was shown of Ai Weiwei, who was unable to attend in person. In the video, the release of which is remarkable, given Weiwei's circumstances even then, the artist describes his treatment by the Chinese government and the lengths to which the authorities go to maintain a "Great Firewall" to prevent news from coming in or going out of the country. Weiwei, a prolific blogger, no longer can post.

It's important to hear what Weiwei shares, courageously and clear-sightedly, in the video — we don't have his equivalent in the United States. Weiwei speaks regardless of the politics, regardless of the possible repercussions to himself.

If you can imagine the idea of a Chinese version of the Middle East uprisings — a "Jasmine Revolution" — you can understand how threatening is the voice of even an artist to established and iron-clad authority, and also the importance of being willing to speak out against injustice, in whatever  form, wherever it exists. What Weiwei and others like him seek are what we here in the United States too often take for granted: our rights, which are not Western but universal ideals. As Weiwei has said, "I don't think I'm brave or I have any crazy ideas about changing society. But I really want to be myself, just to tell other people you also can do so. . . and to tell people what is right and what is wrong, because it's impossible to stop freedom. . . ."*

Our own voices in support of freedom count, too. We start by informing ourselves of events outside our boundaries, and then being willing to say "what is right and what is wrong."

PBS recently broadcast freelance journalist and filmmaker Alison Klayman's "Who's Afraid of Ai Weiwei?" If you haven't seen this excellent program, go here and watch it now. You'll also find documentation of Klayman's behind-the-scenes efforts to make her documentary Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (she already has spent two years on it, filming for more than 200 hours), a profile of Weiwei by The New Yorker  China correspondent Evan Osnos, and a slideshow of Weiwei's art. In addition, go here to learn about Weiwei's "Earthquake Campaign" and other uses of social media in protest.

* Interview Clip from "Dan Rather Reports"

Website for Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

Kickstarter Campaign for Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry on FaceBook and Twitter

Ben Davis, "Ai Weiwei's Documentarian on Why the New Arrest Marks an Alarming Escalation", ArtInfo, April 4, 2011

Lucy Birmingham, "Who Is Ai Weiwei?", ArtInfo, August 10, 2009

Twitter Petition to "Free Ai Weiwei": Another petition access is here.


shana goetsch said...

thank you for this post!

Cain and Todd Benson said...

very nice post, keep up the good work!.

here are my thoughts...

“Ai Weiwei Freedom” 自由, 艾未未. Art, image. Ai Weiwei.

spread the word.