UPDATE: A previous version of this story reported that artist Cao Fei had been prevented from leaving China to attend the opening of her show "Play Time" at Lombard-Freid Projects in New York. The gallery has since informed us that this delay is due to visa-processing issues with the United States government, and not connected to the Chinese government. We regret the error.
We are now well past the one-month anniversary of Ai Weiwei's detention in China, and while the Chinese government shows no sign of relenting, the artist's arrest — and the ongoing repression of many other artists and dissidents — continues to have wider ramifications. Among other things, it has made frighteningly apparent the madness of a state that seems to see enemies everywhere, with hardliners exiling a Confucius statue from Tienanmen Square for ideological reasons, banning TV programs about time travel (because they treat history in a frivolous way), and now even going after jasmine (as in, yes, the plant itself) because of its association with Tunisia's "Jasmine Revolution." Below, find ARTINFO's round-up of the latest events relating to Ai's arrest.
ACCOUNT OF AI WEIWEI'S TORTURE SURFACES
The most sinister development — and the only real glimpse yet of what might be going on with the artist himself — has been the release of an account, penned under a pseudonym by someone identifying himself as a disaffected reporter with the state-controlled Xinhua News Agency. The piece was published in English translation by ChinaAid, a United States-funded organization dedicated to tracking religious persecution in China, with the caveat that the organization could not independently confirm its veracity. It states that a "Public Security Ministry official with a conscience" told Xinhua insiders the details of the brutal means used on Ai: "Fu Zhenghua, the chief of the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau, instructed those handling the case to show Ai Weiwei the video of [dissident lawyer] Gao Zhisheng being tortured, including shots of electric batons being inserted into Gao's anus and his blood, semen, feces, and urine spurting out," the account alleges. "Fu Zhenghua also issued an order saying: Whatever methods were used on Gao Zhisheng, use the same ones to make Ai Weiwei give in. After several consecutive days of torture, Ai Weiwei was finally compelled to sign a statement of confession, admitting to tax evasion."
The ChinaAid account also contains a detailed narrative of how Ai's past activism personally offended several powerful Chinese officials, asserting that the current persecution has been spurred by high-level grudges. Whether or not the nightmarish descriptions of Ai's torture can be confirmed, in the absence of any word from the artist since he disappeared, observers are bound to imagine the worst.
Anish Kapoor SPEAKS OUT
Turner Prize-winning artist Anish Kapoor is dedicating "Leviathan," his giant commission opening today at Paris's Grant Palais, to Ai Weiwei. "It's a month now that the poor man has been held without a voice, but not only that, his family doesn't know where he is," Kapoor told the BBC. "This is not a situation that is acceptable in any circumstances. It does bear witness to the barbarity of governments if they're that paranoid that they have to put away artists. It's a ridiculous situation." (There is a kind of symmetry here, as Kapoor's massive tower is going to highlight the London Olympics, while Ai designed the Bird's Nest Stadium for the Beijing Olympics, famously disowning it as a protest against the political situation in China.) Kapoor also used his stature to call for the art world to do more to take a stand, proposing a possible day of global solidarity: "Perhaps all museums and galleries should be closed for a day across the world. I think some such campaign needs to form itself."
CRACKDOWN ON POLITICAL GRAFFITI IN HONG KONG
In Hong Kong, activists have been arrested for pro-Ai Weiwei graffiti. The semi-autonomous city-state has become a hotbed of public debate about Ai Weiwei and China's current crackdown in general. The arrested activists were members of Hong Kong's pro-democracy party, the League of Social Democrats (LSD), and were detained for executing some spray-painted stencils during a small rally, including the now-famous "Who's Afraid of Ai Weiwei?" graphic. The incident appears only likely to further political tensions. "The graffiti are a form of freedom of expression," LSD vice president Avery Ng told the AFP. "The arrest was akin to helping the mainland Chinese government to crack down on dissidents."
At the end of April, activists had projected giant images of the "Who's Afraid of Ai Weiwei?" graphic onto public buildings in Hong Kong, including the police headquarters and the China's People's Liberation Army barracks, sparking an uproar.
AI HONORED IN ABSENTIA
Exhibitions of Ai's work continue to proliferate. New York, of course, has just opened Ai's "Zodiac Heads" at the Pulitzer Fountain as a public art commission. In London, Lisson gallery is going ahead with an Ai Weiwei retrospective, while Berlin's Neugerriemschneider has recently debuted a show of his works.
Also in Germany, the German Academy of Arts announced on Saturday that Ai Weiwei had been named a member. Before his detention, he had publicly been considering moving to Berlin, and the incident has been particularly controversial in Germany, where an "Art of Enlightenment" show of German painting had been sent to China's showy new National Museum of China on Tienanmen Square, to celebrate the country's embrace of enlightenment values, an act of cultural diplomacy that almost perfectly corresponded with the authorities' crackdown on artists and dissidents. The Academy's statement about Ai's appointment left no doubt that the honor had political overtones, by condemning Chinese authorities' justification for Ai's arrest as propaganda: "Despite the official (Chinese) statement about an 'economic crime,' there is no doubt that his imprisonment relates to his human rights work."