Yesterday morning, 53-year-old Ai Weiwei — one of China’s best-known contemporary artists and an outspoken critic of its government — was detained at Beijing Capital International Airport. He has not been heard from since. Last night, police confiscated dozens of items from his studio (including over 30 computers), and questioned his wife, Lu Qing, about “[his] work and the articles he posted online.” They did not inform her where he is being held. Britain, France, and Germany (where he is in the process of building a studio in Berlin) are calling for his release. Meanwhile, the organizer of a large-scale public art project by Ai that is set to open in New York this May has said that the show will go on, with or without him.
The incident comes in the wake of a government crackdown in response to the call for a “Jasmine revolution” that has resulted in a dozen missing activists, including five human rights lawyers. Not that the controversial artist has ever checked himself out of fear of such things; rather, he almost seems to thrive off of the conflict with authorities. As he told the Guardian in an interview last year, “People have said, if you leave, you may never come back. Or they may not even let you leave. So this is always a cost you may have to pay. But I don’t want to restrict myself: when it happens, it happens. I have to deal with it, but not to prepare for it, because it is a kind of stupidity. If you prepare for it too much, you become a part of it.” Click through to check out a selection of some his most famous works.
Ai Weiwei, Sunflower Seeds, 2010. Photo credit: Tate Photography © Ai Weiwei
The Beijing National Stadium (Artistic consultant: Ai Weiwei)
Ai Weiwei, “Forever” Bicycles, 2003. © Ai Weiwei
Ai Weiwei, Bubble, 2008, porcelain. Installation view, Watson Island, Miami, 2008. © Ai Weiwei
Ai Weiwei, Cube Light, 2008. Installation view. © Ai Weiwei