Ai Weiwei Update: 05.12.11

Ai Weiwei in the hospital after being beaten by police, Sept. 2009. Via Twitter.

Torture and Ai Weiwei:
The most sinister development — and the only real glimpse yet of what might be going on with the artist himself — has been the release of an account, penned under a pseudonym by someone identifying himself as a disaffected reporter with the state-controlled Xinhua News Agency. The piece was published in English translation by ChinaAid, a United States-funded organization dedicated to tracking religious persecution in China, with the caveat that the organization could not independently confirm its veracity. It states that a "Public Security Ministry official with a conscience" told Xinhua insiders the details of the brutal means used on Ai: "Fu Zhenghua, the chief of the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau, instructed those handling the case to show Ai Weiwei the video of [dissident lawyer] Gao Zhisheng being tortured, including shots of electric batons being inserted into Gao's anus and his blood, semen, feces, and urine spurting out," the account alleges. "Fu Zhenghua also issued an order saying: Whatever methods were used on Gao Zhisheng, use the same ones to make Ai Weiwei give in. After several consecutive days of torture, Ai Weiwei was finally compelled to sign a statement of confession, admitting to tax evasion."
• An online editorial marking today's anniversary of the Sichuan earthquake three years ago has disappeared from the website of Guangdong’s Southern Metropolis Daily, China Media Project reports. The piece included three allusions to Ai Weiwei, whose art and activism frequently addressed the quake -- and corruption by local officials that may have exacerbated its effects -- that killed some 90,000 people:
“In our hearts, we lowered our flags to half-mast for them. On the day of mourning we called them home and wished them peace. We gathered together all the human evidence of them we could. We read their names together. We promised that we would bear them constantly in mind, never forgetting, over and over again. We did so much, and yet we did too little. Those of you who were lost and did not return, where are you? Can the light we kindle shine across your path? We cannot do more.”
Ai sought to compile a list of the children killed in the quake, something the government refused to do. The editorial also mentioned quake victims who "lived happily on this earth for seven years, or for longer or shorter periods of time" -- a clear reference to an installation by Ai that spelled out a grieving mother's words about her late daughter in children's school backpacks on the exterior of a Munich museum: "She lived happily for seven years in this world."

Ai's studio has released a video commemorating the quake's anniversary. Edited before Ai's detention more than a month ago, the video "consists of harrowing interviews with black-clad parents whose children died in the quake, and who have braved beatings, official harassment, and detentions in an attempt to protest alleged shoddy construction in the quake-hit schools," Radio Free Asia reports.

• Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, traveling in China this week, called Beijing's human-rights record "deplorable": "They're worried and they are trying to stop history, which is a fool's errand. They cannot do it. But they're going to hold it off as long as possible." The State Department is reportedly investing $19 million to help Chinese and Iranian dissidents bypass government internet censors through new technology dubbed “slingshots” that sidestep firewalls in those countries.

Sculptor Anish Kapoor on Ai's detention:
I feel that as artists we have a communal voice and it's important that we stick together, that we have a sense of solidarity with each other. It would be nice to see the art world come together a little more. Perhaps all museums and galleries should be closed for a day across the world. I think some such campaign needs to form itself... It does bear witness to the barbarity of governments that if they're that paranoid they have to put away artists. It's a ridiculous situation.
Alison Klayman, director of the documentary Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, will be a guest on The Colbert Report Monday night, May 16, the film's Facebook page confirms. Support production of the film on Kickstarter.

• Jed Perl at the New Republic writes on Ai, "the Chinese answer to Joseph Beuys, a post-Duchampian shaman with an Asian spin."

• ArtInfo.com looks at a fashion trend around Ai's plight, noting a Free Ai shirt in the window of Brooklyn Industries... an apparel company called out in 2009 for outsourcing its work to China.

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