April 09, 2011

Who Is Ai Weiwei and Why Is He in Jail?


Any artist that points out injustices or asks hard questions about society is going to make enemies sooner or later. That’s because nobody likes a critic — especially repressive governments. All critics ever seem to do is complain, and artists are sometimes the worst offenders. Their views take the form of paintings, photographs, writings, and art shows, and worst of all, you just can’t shut them up.

Historically, artists and their kin — writers, poets, and activists — have always been easy targets because they tend to be poor and have little political power. However, in 2011 we are in the age of the internet, and it is harder than ever for governments to get away with arbitrary beatings and secret arrests. As Norma Cole mentioned last week here on Open Space, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei was arrested at the Beijing airport on April 3rd. Now, one week later, the Chinese authorities still have not said where he is or why he is being held. For those of you unfamiliar with his work, an organization called TED.com has released a video that provides some context and then lets Weiwei himself explain what his art is about. It’s also worth asking, if one artist can be arrested for making socially critical art, then what’s stopping the arrest of others? It’s important to shine a light on these abuses because in most of the world art functions very clearly as a tool for social criticism and social change.

The TED.com site is dedicated to the distribution of good ideas and maintains a large archive of material which is available to anyone for free.

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