It has been thirty-seven days since Ai Weiwei was detained at the Beijing Capital International Airport just before boarding a flight to Hong Kong. Other than a few vague, disparate statements, including a one-line report that he was under investigation by police and a threatening warning that Ai “will pay the price”, officials have said little about his whereabouts or the exact reason for his detainment. The day Ai was detained, fifty officers came to his studio, searched the premises, and confiscated laptops and the hard drive from his main computer. Ai’s studio partner, Liu Zhenggang, and his driver, Zhang Jingsong, have been missing since April 9th. And his assistant, Wen Tao who was escorted with Ai by officials at the airport has been missing ever since.
Ai Weiwei, who is both an internationally renowned artist and an outspoken critic of the regime, was born in Beijing on August 28,1957. The next year, during Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, his parents, who were poets, were sent to a labor camp in Shihezi. They were held for sixteen years before being reunited with their son and returning to Beijing in 1975.
In 1981, Ai moved to New York as a young artist and lived there until his father became ill and he returned to China in 1993. While in New York, he studied at Parsons School of Design and shot over 10,000 photographs. Ai Weiwei: New York 1983-1993, a new publication available at the ICP Library, contains a selection of the several thousands of photographs Ai took while he was living in the city. These 226 beautiful black and white photographs, initially selected for an exhibition at Three Shadows Photography Centre in 2009, offer insight into Ai Weiwei’s thoughts on New York City, its art world, and its activism.
Since returning to China in 1993, Ai Weiwei has become one of the Chinese government’s most prominent internal critics. Many believe his detention is the result of the government’s fear that his activism will incite a “jasmine revolution” similar to the people’s uprisings in the Middle East and Africa. In May 2009, Ai’s blog, where he posted videos, photos, and his political opinion, was shut down by the government. In January 2010, his studio in Shanghai was demolished under the premise that he had failed to obtain the correct planning permits for the building. Shortly before his detention, Ai posted the following on his Twitter account: “I didn’t care about jasmine at first, but people who are scared by jasmine sent out information about how harmful jasmine is often, which makes me realize that jasmine is what scares them the most. What a jasmine!”
Follow news and events related to Ai Weiwei’s detention: http://freeaiweiwei.org
Sign a petition for Ai Weiwei’s release: http://www.change.org/petitions/call-for-the-release-of-ai-weiwei