Saturday, June 16, 2012
BEIJING (AP).- Artist Ai Weiwei has again criticized China's leaders as lacking vision and refusing to permit dissenting voices, saying the government's mantra of maintaining stability is merely a ruse to protect illicit benefits and special interests. The country's best known international artist said he would continue to fight for human rights and freedom of expression in a videotaped message posted Monday on YouTube, which is blocked in China. He said that the form of limited house arrest under which he has lived for months is punishment for his activism. "Freedom of expression is a very essential condition for me to make any art. Also, it is an essential value for my life. I have to protect this right and also to fight for the possibility," Ai said in the message that was shown at an event in Basel, Switzerland, late Sunday. The event was organized by Germany-based Cinema for Peace Foundation and also saw the screening of Alison Klayman's documentary "Ai Weiwei Never Sorry."
Chinese authorities view Ai as a troublemaker. They detained him for three months last year and his design company was ordered to pay 15 million yuan ($2.4 million) in back taxes and fines. He is appealing. Since then, he has been refused permission to travel and is under constant surveillance, although he still frequently criticizes the government on Twitter, another website that is blocked in China but accessible to tech-savvy citizens.
Ai said self-interest is China's only political ideology and the "people in office just try to maintain so-called stability to protect their own profit, or their own interest. They have to crush other voices. There's no real communication or discussion." The Internet can help boost transparency, while art can stir critical thinking, he said. "I think art is a very important weapon to achieve human freedom," Ai said. Ai's detention has only burnished his fame and his handmade porcelain "Sunflower Seeds" sold at auction last month for $782,500, a record for the artist.
NOTE: Although I remain of two minds about Ai Weiwei's art, which sometimes seems derivative, decorative (not necessarily a bad thing; not necessarily a good thing) and overly decorous, reading his words in defense of art and and artistic and human freedom is uplifting and makes me admire the man enormously. I believe I'm beginning to warm to the "Sunflower Seeds,” although I'm not usually inspired by allegory or one-note explanation-key symbolism.
Still, Ralph Shikes' The Indignant Eye, The Artist As Social Critic In Prints And Drawings From The Fifteenth Century To Picasso, has always been a touchstone for me and I think Ai Weiwei's work would deserve to be included what would be a long-overdue new edition of that classic study of political and socially conscious art.
I hope I have an opportunity to see Alison Klayman's documentary "Ai Weiwei Never Sorry" very soon and that Ai Weiwei's words and art-actions have a salutary effect on China and the rest of the world.