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Label: ai weiwei

Monday 26th October 2015Ai Weiwei vs ... Lego?

It seems like Ai Weiwei cannot catch a break lately. First Chinese authorities essentially kidnapped him for 81 days of gruelling interrogation and revoked his passport, and then when they finally returned it to him, he was denied the proper visa by British authorities that would have allowed him to attend his first exhibition of his own work since his passport was revoked years ago.

Eventually the whole mess got straightened out, and he was able to attend the event, but things haven't stayed rosy. Currently in Melbourne, Australia working on a group show about political dissidents, Ai was hoping to construct his portraits of a wide range of jailed and exiled dissidents out of the popular construction toy, Lego. Ai previously held a similar exhibition in Alcatraz Prison, San Francisco just the year before, and was hoping to recreate something similar for the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, but apparently the company shut the project down by informing the museum that its product could not be used for artworks that contained "any political, religious, racist, obscene or defaming statements".

Naturally, Ai was less than pleased about this development. "As a commercial entity, Lego produces and sells toys, movies and amusement parks attracting children across the globe. As a powerful corporation, Lego is an influential cultural and political actor in the globalized economy with questionable values. Lego's refusal to sell its product to the artist is an act of censorship and discrimination." he said, taking to Instagram to vent his frustrations and call out the corporation.

A Lego spokesman with the unlikely name of Roar Rude Trangbaek was naturally quick to distance the company from the specific issues raised by Mr. Ai, but did comment to the effect that it has always been Lego company policy to refuse bulk sales of Lego to customers who are expected to use the toy in any political works.

"Lego is giving us the definition of what is 'political', and all the big corporations are telling us what to love or hate", Ai tweeted. It does sound a difficult situation from a public relations perspective, but Ai has explained his suspicions about Lego's true motives by mentioning the fact that the company is hoping to build one of their popular Legoland amusement parks in Shanghai, China, and probably don't want to ruffle the feathers of Chinese officials as a result.
 

Posted on October 26th 2015 on 02:00am
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Friday 31st July 2015Ai Weiwei's Troubles with Travel

Sometimes, it seems like Ai Weiwei just cannot catch a break. As we discussed recently, he had his passport confiscated back in 2011 when he was arrested by the Chinese government as part of a crackdown on suspected political activists. Ai, who is a vocal critic of the repressive policies of the Communist regime, is admittedly a political activist, in and of itself a brave act within the confines of China. At long last, earlier this year, his passport was finally returned, an apparent victory for the long suffering artist, who missed any number of his own shows and openings due to the effective travel ban. An apparent victory for freedom and cultural expression in China, some humans rights lawyers both in and outside China cautioned that travel may not be actually as simple as having a passport, but the sentiment within the country also appears to be swinging in his favour.

So what sort of a shock would it be to be given freedom of passage by the Chinese government, only to have your visa application rejected by the British government? Extremely unbelievable and frustrating, no doubt. Hoping to visit London in September for the opening of one of his shows, the first outside of China he has been able to attend in 4 years, his application for a six-month visa was rejected and he was granted a mere 20 day business visitor visa.

The grounds for the rejection are almost laughable: some overzealous bureaucrat determined that Ai had failed to disclose a supposed criminal conviction in China - something that is simply flat out wrong. The rejection letter cited a "matter of public record that you have previously received a criminal conviction in China, and you have not declared this”. The problem, of course, is that Ai was never charged, let alone convicted. He was detained on suspicions of a variety of trumped-up charges, which were never actually filed.

Fortunately, as outcry grew, someone higher up the food chain decided to take a hand in the matter: the home secretary herself, Theresa May. Ai was finally granted the full six-month visa he deserved, and received a written apology from May and the Home Office. In a written statement issued, the Home Office said, “The home secretary was not consulted over the decision to grant Mr Ai a one-month visa. She has reviewed the case and has now instructed Home Office officials to issue a full six-month visa. We have written to Mr Ai apologising for the inconvenience caused.”

Enjoy London, Mr. Ai!
 

Posted on July 31st 2015 on 04:42pm
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Labels: ai weiwei, china, visa

Wednesday 22nd July 2015Ai Weiwei's Passport Finally Returned

It's been something of a rollercoaster ride for Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei over the past few years. He's launched numerous art exhibitions around the world, had documentaries made about him and his struggles with the Chinese government, and been generally celebrated around the world as a rising star in the art world, but back home, the Chinese authorities have seemed less than enamoured. After being temporarily disappeared back in 2011 by the secret police, questioned repeatedly and subjected to psychological tortures, he was finally released - but without his passport. It was kept by the government to ensure that they could keep an eye on him, and he couldn't flee the country and become an external force for destabilizing the ruling leaders. It was a difficult time for the Communist regime, which was in the middle of a serious crackdown on political activists.

Finally, however, it appears that government sentiment towards Mr. Ai has softened, as today he received it back from the police, as evidenced by the Instagram photo he posted earlier showing the travel document. "When I got it back I felt my heart was at peace. I feel pleased. This was something that needed to be done. I was quite frustrated when my right to travel was taken away but now I feel much more positive about my condition. I think they should have given it back some time ago – and maybe after so many years they understand me better.”

There was a huge outpouring of support on social media as Ai posted his passport selfie, both from within China and around the world. Even some of the Chinese tabloids that are typically pro-Beijing were questioning whether or not it was time to move on from the whole debacle. Curiously, however, this move comes amidst yet another political crackdown throughout China, both regarding human rights and other political activism.

Unfortunately, as a prominent human rights attorney noted on Twitter, "“Congratulations Mr Ai Weiwei on getting your passport back. But having a passport doesn’t mean you can get out of China freely." The Chinese government is notoriously strict about controlling the movements of its citizens in and out of the country, but it seems that Mr. Ai will likely be granted his wish. Congratulations!

Posted on July 22nd 2015 on 03:17pm
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