Call for Action: Worldwide Sit-In this Sunday for Ai Weiwei

Missing posters of Ai Weiwei have been popping up on Twitter as twitpics all week.

Ai Weiwei's "Perspective" series was part of MoMA's
exhibitions this past week (my photo) and served
as a gathering spot for discussion about the artist's fate
While in NYC, the news of artist Ai Weiwei’s arrest and detainment by the Chinese government was a much discussed topic in both local papers and arts media outlets. At the Museum of Modern Art, his “Perspective” photographic series (which includes the wonderful and now fitting flipping of the bird at Tienanmen Square) was included in the “Staging Action: Performance in Photography Since 1960” exhibition and served as a wonderful reminder of his persistence and well established place in the history of contemporary art. While I was standing there admiring the work, the photographs also served as a gathering spot for visitors who were sharing information and educating newcomers to Ai Weiwei, his career and current situation.

"Who's Afraid of Ai Weiwei" graffiti has
been popping up in Hong Kong this past week
The truth of course is that no one really has a clear sense of what has happened to the artist since he was taken into custody by the Chinese authority April 3rd. With vague accusations of “economic crimes,” it is clear to many that the artist has been silenced as part of an escalating crackdown on Chinese intellectuals, artists, critics, and academics accused of sparking internal dissent towards the government. Just today the Guardian reported that a lawyer and designer linked to Ai Weiwei have also gone missing. An open letter by Ai’s wife has called for an investigation into the disappearance: “"The people ... all disappeared or got kidnapped in a very short period of time and we request that the public security bureau investigate the matter. We are deeply concerned about the situation Ai Weiwei and his colleagues are in now. Kidnapping citizens or making them disappear is a severe crime and it immensely hurts people, relatives and friends around them. We believe justice can only exist if every administrative procedure is carried out in accordance with the law. Otherwise any conclusion or result that's been drawn does not hold water ... We hope that the public security bureau can act according to the law and protect people's rights."

Ai Weiwei's Fairytale (2007) project was part of the most recent Documenta.
For this work, Ai invited 1001 Chinese residents (who applied through his blog) to Kassel, Germany
to allow them the experience of both the exhibition and the small German city over three months.
The project now serves as inspiration for the latest call for protest on the artist's behalf.

In the meantime, the worldwide art community has gathered to call for the artist’s release through a widely circulating petition. And just in the past several days a new call for action emerged via Facebook with the “1001 Chairs for Ai Weiwei” movement, a collective protest set to take place this Sunday, April 17th at 1pm local time calling upon artists and curators to hold sit-ins in front of Chinese embassies and consulates worldwide to protest the detainment. The 1001 Chairs is a reference to one of Ai’s better known installation and performances Fairytale (2007) exhibited at the last Documenta (see image above). Ai’s situation has also inspired an unnamed graffiti artist, working in Hong Kong, who has stenciled graffiti images with the words “Who’s Afraid of Ai Weiwei” all over the city. No doubt the arrest of one of the world’s most respected contemporary artists will not go unnoticed or continue without a call for action.

For a compelling look at the evolving dynamics of Ai Weiwei’s relationship to the Chinese government, I recommend a wonderful and recent article written by Ben Davis for ARTINFO. Also check out the insightful documentary by filmmaker Alison Klayman Ai Weiwei Never Sorry