The call to release Ai Weiwei

The international community seeks more information on the detainment and disappearance of Ai Weiwei, and calls for his release—UPDATES.

Since its reporting in the last 48 hours, the case of Chinese artist, architect, and activist Ai Weiwei has prompted demands from the international art and design community for his release, as well as public statements on his behalf by the United States, the United Kingdom, and most recently by the European Union. News that he has been detained and disappeared as of April 3, 2011 has broken across the international media. As reported early on by Andrew Jacobs in the New York Times, and more recently by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, his detention and forced 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.
Aaron Levy, Executive Director of the Slought Foundation, Philadelphia, and Melissa Lam, an independent curator in Hong Kong, have reported in:

"While his arrest is not unexpected, and indeed was anticipated by Ai Weiwei 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 a dinner gathering he organized at his condemned studio, and his beating by Chinese police in August 2009, with emergency brain surgery required.

"Ai Weiwei, 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 Ai Weiwei'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. Ai Weiwei 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."

Of course this case is drawing much-needed attention in part due to Ai Weiwei's broad interest and support among international institutions and the press. Ai Weiwei has suddenly joined the increasing number of Chinese citizens who dissent and disappear. His principles remind us to be cognizant of and vocal for all the dissidents who are suddenly silenced.

There are many new insights and updates at the Slought Foundation page.

The US State Department has issued a statement for the release of Ai Weiwei.

Ai Weiwei's documentarian on why the arrest marks an alarming escalation.

April 5, 11 AM EST: Ai Weiwei's mother and sister posted this hand-written appeal for more information about his detention. The notice reads:
"Ai Weiwei, male, 53, on 3rd April 2011 at around 8.30am, taken away by two unknown men at the Beijing International Airport before boarding a flight to Hong Kong, it's been more than 50 hours now, his whereabouts are still unknown.
If you know his whereabouts, please contact his family.
Tel: 010-64019901
Thank you.
Mother: Gao Ying
Sister: Gao Ge"

April 6, 10 AM EST: Online calls for the release of Ai Weiwei have been suppressed within China, but netizens are bringing the ethic of just-below-the-radar workarounds to bear. As a report in China Digital Times details, the phrase "Love the Future," which looks and sounds very similar to Ai Wei Wei's name, is now being used.

These posts are often being deleted by state censors as well, but this form of optimistic subversion is spreading. Some online statements reported by CDT include,
- "To love the future is to love yourself. Fill the microblogs with love. Fill the motherland with love. Donate your love to the future of the motherland."

- "I really don't dare believe that in this society, even love for the future can disappear."

- "Justice doesn't die; faith is forever. Love the future!"

- "Love life; Love your dreams; Love freedom; Love the future! Good night!"

- "Have you loved the future today?"

April 6, 2 PM EST: Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported that Ai Weiwei was to be charged with "economic crimes"—but then quickly removed the post. Here is a screenshot of the announcement, but the page it was on is now dead. Further, there are now no mentions on Xinhua about Ai Wei Wei's detention at all.

April 6, 6 PM EST: There is now a Facebook page to free Ai Weiweii.

April 6, 10 PM EST: Word is arriving from Melissa Lam in Hong Kong about a major protest march that will take place there on April 10th, organized by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China. It will begin at 11 am at the Western Police Station, and will proceed to the China Liason Office. For more information in Chinese, visit the Alliance's website page. An English version is included below:
Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China
Those that demand the immediate release of all dissidents and protest the Chinese government's wanton violation of civil rights are invited to attend the April 10 march to the China and Macau Liaison Office.
Famous Chinese artist Ai Weiwei on April 3 left Beijing for Hong Kong and was going through customs when he was suddenly taken away. So far there has been no answer from him, his studio in Beijing has also been searched, and eight working staff members have been taken to the Beijing Chaoyang District police station for questioning. Ai Weiwei's wife, Lu Qing is also under house arrest by the police, Ai Weiwei's mother and sister have called for public attention through the search notices. China toxic milk victim parents Zhao Lianhai, braved the alleged violation of provisions on medical parole and on April 5th, broke his silence, calling for the release of activist artist Ai Weiwei, China, expressing indignation that Ai was taken away by the authorities. Zhao disappeared on the afternoon of April 6 and has no family contact.
The Alliance is very concerned about the fate of Ai Weiwei and Zhao Lianhai, and on Sunday (April 10) will march to the Liaison Office, requesting the release of all arrested activists. Date is as follows: 4/10 (Sunday). Time: 11:00. Location: Western Police Station congregation will proceed to the China Liaison Office. We invite you to attend and participate with your organization.

April 9, 8 PM EST: The Wall Street Journal has reported on the Hong Kong march that will begin at 11 AM, local time. The WSJ reports,
"[Melissa] Lam worked with prominent Hong Kong artists Leung Chi-wo and Siu-lan Ko to produce black-and-white T-shirts to distribute for free at the march. Both artists play the phrase "Ai Wei Lai," which means "Love the Future" that microbloggers in China and those posting on Chinese message boards have been using instead of the characters for Ai Weiwei, which have been censored online by the Chinese government.

"Mr. Leung's design translates as "No love with real heart in that country."

Ai Weiwei portrait by Gaia Cambiaggi

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