Ai Weiwei hits back at alleged censorship using social media
The activist artist takes to Instagram and removes his work from a show in Beijing in protest
By Pac Pobric. Web only
Published online: 02 June 2014
The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has struck back using social media against what he sees as self-censorship when his name was omitted from a list of participating artists for a show at the Ullens Centre of Contemporary Art (UCCA) in Beijing. In protest, the activist-artist has removed his work from the exhibition, organised to celebrate the work of the late curator Hans van Dijk, a champion of contemporary Chinese artists.
As reported by the blog Shanghaiist, the artist has posted to his Instagram account a transcript of a conversation he had with the institution’s director, Philip Tinari, in which Ai accuses Tinari of self-censoring. “You’re young, you don’t have to do this,” Ai reportedly says. “You have a bright future, you don’t have to ruin yourself with this Chinese-ness.”
In Ai’s transcript, Tinari stresses that the artist’s name is “all over the exhibition” including on wall texts. Tinari adds that that his unnamed boss made the decision to remove the artist’s name “one time” from a press release on the opening day because “she was being threatened”. Ai contends, however, that she “called me and said that you and her discussed [it] and agreed to take my name down”.
Ai has since removed his art from the show. According to a quote translated by the bilingual news site Randian, he says the decision was made “to honor the memory of my dear friend [Hans van Dijk]… in defiance of UCCA and the false portrayal of Chinese contemporary art.”
When asked for a comment, Tinari sent a statement issued by the museum administration that says they were “saddened by [Ai’s] recent decision to remove [his] work from the show”. The statement adds that “visitors will still be able to understand Ai Weiwei’s collaborations with Hans van Dijk through the presentation of numerous archival materials in the exhibition which illustrate the artist’s place in this important history, particularly in relation to van Dijk’s last major project, the China Art Archive and Warehouse, a space he co-founded with Ai Weiwei and Frank Uytterhaegen in 1998”. Responding specifically to Ai’s claim that his name was removed from press releases, the statement says that “in press materials, exhibition information, and wall texts, UCCA has credited and continues to credit Ai Weiwei. While there were multiple versions of the exhibition press release circulated both physically and digitally, no single version did not include Ai Weiwei’s name at least once.”
Last month, Ai’s work was censored from another exhibition covering the history of Chinese contemporary art at the Power Station of Art in Shanghai. The show looked back at the award established in 1998 by the patron and collector Uli Sigg to encourage young artists in the country. Ai had served on the award jury three times and had been presented with the prize for lifetime achievement in 2008, but his name was erased from the list of winners and his works removed from the show following pressure from local cultural officials.
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