Moral Low Ground


Ai Weiwei, China’s Most Famous Artist, Missing Following Beijing Airport Arrest



China’s most internationally renowned artist has gone missing following a Sunday arrest at Beijing’s airport.

Ai Weiwei, a prolific and accomplished visual artist whose diverse mediums include sculpture, photography, film, installation and architecture, was detained while boarding a flight to Hong Kong when he was arrested. According to Britain’s Guardian, Ai’s wife and several of his assistants were also apprehended before being released later. But Ai and a friend remain missing, prompting worldwide concern over his safety.

Chinese authorities remain tight-lipped about the 53-year-old’s arrest. Police took more than 30 computers as well as notebooks and documents from Ai’s Beijing home on Sunday. Ai has been an outspoken critic of the authoritarian Chinese government, and he often incorporates his dissent into his artwork. Still, many believed Ai was given more freedom than many by the government because of his father’s status as a legendary poet and his own worldwide fame. The government even allowed him to help design the Olympic Stadium, the famous “Bird’s Nest,” for the 2008 Beijing games.

Ai’s arrest is part of a wider crackdown on opponents of the Beijing regime. Human rights groups say the government wants to avoid the type of unrest that is currently gripping much of the Middle East. The group Human Rights Watch says as many as 25 lawyers, activists and bloggers have been detained, arrested or had disappeared. According to the BBC, Beijing lawyer Liu Xiaoyan was detained for 10 hours on Saturday for simply posting an online note inquiring into the whereabouts of a missing Shanghai attorney.

“They accused me of causing trouble by discussing the missing lawyer,” said Liu.

Liu, who is friends with Ai, says the police should have either charged or released the artist by now. But his wife Lu Qing told the Associated Press that “there is no news of him so far.”

“They asked me about Ai Weiwei’s work and the articles he posted online,” she said. “I told them that everything that Ai did was very public, and if they wanted to know his opinions and work they could just look at the internet.”

The United States, Britain and Germany have expressed concern over Ai’s detention. The US embassy in Beijing called the arrest “inconsistent with the fundamental freedoms and human rights of all Chinese citizens.”

The European Union also expressed its concern over Ai’s arrest.

“We call on the Chinese authorities to refrain from using arbitrary detention under any circumstances,” said Markus Ederer, the EU ambassador to China.

Ai currently has an exhibition at the Tate Modern in London. Called “Sunflower Seeds,” it features 100 million tiny porcelain objects that look like sunflower seeds. He’s also set to open an exhibition at London’s Lisson Gallery and will unveil a Chinese zodiac sculpture in the courtyard of Somerset House.

Ai Weiwei's "Sunflower Seeds" (Photo: Phil Hawksworth)

Ai Weiwei’s “Sunflower Seeds” (Photo: Phil Hawksworth)

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  1. John SmithApril 5, 2011 at 11:50 amReply

    What!! China violating human rights!! Is this a story? If it happens all the time it really isn’t news…

    • Brett WilkinsApril 5, 2011 at 12:15 pmReplyAuthor

      But it is news when it’s an internationally renowned artist who’s arrested. That’s not to say the thousands of other dissidents arrested in China aren’t newsworthy…

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