Ai Weiwei - dissident art in ChinaMay 21, 2012 @ 6:58 am (Updated: 9:51 am - 5/21/12 )
The blind Chinese dissident who created a diplomatic standoff when he hid out in the US Embassy in China arrived in the United States over the weekend.
Chen Guangchen's release coincided with SIFF sceenings of a popular documentary about China's second best-known dissident, "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry."
(Image: CS Monitor)
Ai Weiwei was actually a much better known dissident than Chen, at least until Chen's desperation move into the American embassy. He's an internationally recognized multi-media artist who's had major retrospectives around the world. He's also been a thorn in the side of the Chinese government for a couple of decades.
Among his signature and controversial art pieces is a photograph of his middle finger taken in front of Tiananmen Square (where hundreds if not thousands of protesters were cut down by government troops.) He also famously recorded himself dropping - on purpose - an ancient Han dynasty urn, as a metaphoric call to "break with the past." He attracted worldwide attention, and infuriated authorities, when he helped design Beijing's famous Bird's Nest Olympic stadium and then very publicly denounced the Games as nothing but Chinese government propaganda.
He created an even bigger scandal in China following the devastating 2008 Sichuan earthquake. When the state refused to turn over the names of the thousands of children who died in shoddily constructed classrooms, he and his assistants painstakingly collected the names themselves, one by one, and then posted them not only in his studio but also on the Internet. Art as silent protest. It caused a sensation inside China.
Weiwei was also so haunted by the sight of hundreds of children's backpacks half-buried in the rubble of that same earthquake that he commissioned nine-thousand backpacks to create his most striking work of art. Documentary director Allison Klayman explains that in the biggest solo show of his career, Weiwei "covered the whole outdoor face of a Munich museum with children's backpacks that spelled out a sentence that was told to him by the mother of an earthquake victim: 'she lived happily on this earth for seven years.' "
This giant installation, stories high, can be seen as a bold protest of a callous Chinese government but it's even more moving as a simple and eloquent statement of the value of every life, no matter how briefly lived.
Weiwei was arrested and imprisoned last year for over three months before being released on bail and placed under house arrest for one year. Weiwei hopes to be freed from home detention when that year is up next month. As protesters are wont to say, the whole world will be watching.
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