When episode 5 of Work of Art, "Ripped From the Headlines," was filmed, Ai Weiwei's status and whereabouts were still unknown. I'm glad that the producers of the show provided a small epilogue about his release at the end of the episode. His battles with the Chinese authorities, however, are far from over.
Here is the latest report on his attempt to receive an administrative review of tax evasion charges that were cited by the Chinese government as the excuse for unlawfully detaining the artist for 81 days: China's Ai Weiwei appeals for lesser-known detainees. If you are unfamiliar with the story, Ai Weiwei was initially arrested without a formal charge, and it was only after immense international pressure, did the artist and social activist reappear in a highly unorthodox series of events. Since his release, he has been banned from leaving the country, and he has faced a series of hurdles in receiving a fair review of the charges set against him.
The artist rightfully calls the 1.3 million dollars the government requested from him as a 'ransom.' Supporters around the globe have pitched into his fund, but in a faulty catch-22, the act of paying the government is a tacit admission of guilt, even though it is required for a review to occur in the first place.
This is not the first time Ai Weiwei has been harassed by Chinese officials. In January of 2011, his studio in Shanghai was completely razed within a day. In 2009, he was beaten so badly by police, he had to undergo brain surgery. He remains one of China's most vocal critics on human rights abuses and the government's failed cover-ups. Weiwei is also one of China's most internationally recognized artists, notably celebrated for his contribution in helping to design the bird's nest Olympic stadium in 2008.
To keep up to date with Ai Weiwei, I highly recommend following this web site http://www.aiweiweifilm.org/en/get-involved/. There will be a feature length documentary in 2012 called, Never Sorry, that highlights his creative process and struggle for individual expression. I admire artists and leaders who are able to blend their inner creative world with the pragmatic demands of the outer real world. Ai Weiwei is such an artist, but he understands the danger in becoming a lone symbol. That is why he uses his prominence as a bullhorn to speak of other injustices and disappearances that receive less attention: Ai Weiwei's documentaries of human rights abuses.
On a table in Ai's work studio, balloons printed with the words "Free Chen Guangcheng" were stuffed in a vase. Chen is a blind legal activist whose long confinement in his village in eastern China has sparked widespread anger.
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Follow progress of the Ai Weiwei documentary, Never Sorry, on Twitter here: