(Updated!) A Call to Free Ai Weiwei, Artist, Architect, Activist

International Newsletter
Ai Weiwei with Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia (Courtesy Melissa Lam)

Ai Weiwei with Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia (Courtesy Melissa Lam)

(Updated 4-6-2011) As details emerge, be sure to track the comments on this post for the latest on Ai Weiwei. We have learned that the US State Department called for his release on Monday. According to VOA News, Mark Toner, State Department Acting Deputy Spokesman saud, “The detention of artist and activist Ai Weiwei is inconsistent with the fundamental freedoms and human rights of all Chinese citizens, including China’s commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and we urge the Chinese government to release him immediately.” Today, the Guardian reported that Ai Weiwei is under investigation for “suspected economic crimes” according to the Chinese state news agency Xinhua which has since deleted the statement.

AN also received the following note of support for Ai Weiwei from Richard Meier. Please feel free to voice your messages of support in the comments.

Ai Weiwei deserves all of our support in his efforts to communicate with the world community of architects about the conditions that currently exist in China. We all hope that his immediate release will happen quickly in response to comments from all of us that support him in his cause.

Sincerely yours,

Richard Meier

(Original Report 4-4-2011) News that Chinese artist, architect, and activist Ai Wei Wei has been detained and disappeared as of April 3, 2011 broke yesterday in the International media.  As reported by Andrew Jacobs in the New York Times, and more recently today by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, his detention and police closure of his Beijing studio coincides with what is known as the “Jasmine Revolution,” a protest movement in the People’s Republic of China that was inspired by the 2011 Tunisian Revolution and has prompted the Communist Party’s six-week crackdown on human rights lawyers and activists, with many of those detained still not released, and others, such as pro-democracy writer Liu Xianbin, sentenced to 10 years in jail for subversion.

While his arrest is not unexpected, and indeed was anticipated by Wei Wei and others in his community, it is a devastating and saddening blow that follows upon the forced demolition of his Shanghai studio in January of this year, his recent house arrest in the wake of Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel Peace Prize, and his beating by Chinese police in August 2009, with emergency brain surgery required.

Wei Wei, the son of revered Chinese poet Ai Qing (regarded as one of the finest modern Chinese poets and himself imprisoned by the Chinese Communist Party), is internationally recognized for his cultural and architectural practice as well as his tireless activism on behalf of social justice and political reform in China.

His many projects include the Bird’s Nest (2008), a landmark design for the Beijing Olympic National Stadium (together with Herzog and De Meuron); Fairytale (2007), in which he sent 1001 Chinese citizens to Kassel, Germany as a cross-cultural exchange; and the Sichuan Earthquake Names Project, which sought to uncover the names of the thousands of schoolchildren who died in the Sichuan earthquake of May 2008, many as a result of poor maintenance of school buildings.

His 2010 “Sunflower Seeds” exhibition, currently on display at Tate Modern, features 100 million porcelain seeds made in the Chinese city of Jingdezhen and forms a seemingly infinite landscape in the museum’s Turbine Hall.  As a commentary on the relationship between the individual and the masses, the project explores the geo-politics of cultural and economic exchange and, as curator Juliet Bingham has remarked, invites us to consider such questions as “What does it mean to be an individual in today’s society?”

We urge the Chinese government to respect Wei Wei’s health and to insure his safety, and to release him immediately.  His detainment and disappearance is a great tragedy and devastating blow to the international community.  Wei Wei is an artist that feels a great love and compassion for China and her people, and we urge the Chinese government to recognize this fact and allow him and his family the freedom if not to speak freely, then to at least leave.

We strongly encourage you to raise your voice and to contact your elected representatives, government contacts, and civic institutions, to advocate for official statements and positions on his behalf as well as all of those that have been detained these last weeks in response to the Jasmine Revolution.

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