The artist and digital activist Ai Weiwei is currently under house arrest in his native China, according to the Guardian. Weiwei, who has embarrassed Chinese authorities on several occasions with his campaigns on sensitive issues, says he has been placed under house arrest until Sunday night because he planned to hold a party to mark the demolition of his newly built studio.
Earlier this week Weiwei, best known for his bird’s nest design for China’s Olympic Stadium, and his Sunflower Seeds exhibition, was ordered to demolish his recently completed $1.2m studio in Shanghai, which had been built after a personal invitation from the local mayor two years ago. The studio was to form part of a new cultural area, where Weiwei was to teach architecture. Authorities now claim the studio had been erected without the relevant planning permission and has to be demolished. In response Weiwei said:
“I was very surprised because the whole process was under government supervision and they were very enthusiastic in pushing it,” he said.
“Two years ago quite a high official [from Shanghai] came to my studio to ask me to build a studio in this newly developed cultural district in an agricultural area. I told him I wouldn’t do it because I had no faith in government, but he somehow convinced me, saying he had come to Beijing from Shanghai, and so I said OK.
“Half a dozen artists were invited to build studios there because they wanted a cultural area. I’m the only one singled out to have my studio destroyed.”
Weiwei decided to hold a huge party before demolition work began, today Ai tweeted that national security officers visited him to say he could not leave his Beijing house until midnight on Sunday - the day of the event. As the Guardian reports:
They appear to have been concerned by the size of the party as well as its nature. Thousands of people had said they wanted to attend after Ai issued an open invitation via Twitter. Chinese authorities are always nervous about large unauthorised gatherings.
“They came last night and tried to interview me, saying I should not do it because it was getting too big,” he said.
“I told them: ‘I cannot cancel my party, because it is our only chance before the building is destroyed.’ Then they suggested I said I was under house arrest. I said: ‘This is ridiculous, because I’m not under house arrest and I’m not going to lie to the public.’”
Ai said he suggested they could either let the party go ahead and stop it if there was any wrongdoing, or ask the Shanghai government not to demolish the building – even if it were only a temporary stay of execution. Had they done so, he would have called off the party.
The police returned today and announced he was under house arrest after he reiterated that he would go unless they stopped him by force.
“They said it was an order they had received … They were very polite and very embarrassed,” he added.
“This is the general tragedy of this nation. Everything has to be dealt with by police. It is like you use an axe to do all the housework because this is the only tool you have.”