China: Ai Weiwei pulled from exhibition under political pressure

7 September 2016

ai weiwei china
Outspoken Chinese artist Ai Weiwei was dropped from the Yinchuan Biennale exhibition just weeks before it was scheduled to open due to “governmental pressure”, as confirmed by the Biennial Foundation, the New York-based group organising the exhibit, reported The New York Times on 26 August 2016.

The artist received what he called “a vague letter” from the Yinchuan Museum of Contemporary Art artistic director Suchen Hsieh who told him the museum had “no choice but to rescind its invitation” under “unfortunate conditions”. The exhibition is scheduled to open on 9 September 2016.

In an email to the newspaper, Biennal Foundation director Rafal Niemojewski wrote: “When governments or private sponsors invest millions in an event, they also frequently assert a decision-making prerogative, and curators rarely get the final say.”

Ai Weiwei posted the following statement on his Instagram account on 24 August 2016 in response to the decision:

I have just learnt that my artwork has been excluded due to my “political sensitivity”. Censorships in communist regions have been present since the existence of the power. Yet it still comes as a surprise to me for an “international art biennale”, with over a hundred international artists and a foreign curator participating, to remove a single artist for the reason of defending human rights and freedom of speech. This shows what we face is a world which is divided and segregated by ideology, and art is used merely as a decoration for political agendas in certain societies.

China is trying to develop into a modern society without freedom of speech, but without political arguments involving higher aesthetic morals and philosophies, art is only served as a puppet of fake cultural efforts.

Therefore I am happy not to be a part of that effort as a political decoration. I believe the real effort we should make, is in defending freedom of speech for our humanism. Only by doing so, art is worth making.

The artist was planning on presenting a sculpture inspired from a photo shared with him (pictured above), showing a red line around an area of the exterior of the museum in which he could erect his art. The piece, which the artist plans to finish nonetheless, will be built using steel rods from the rubble of the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan Province, and once completed, would cast a shadow that forms the silhouette of another one of his pieces, the ‘Hanging Man’.

Ai Weiwei has often been at the centre of controversy in China as an artist who is also politically active and has been arrested, prosecuted, and had his travel limited for several years with heavy surveillance, including the confiscation of his passport. Further, he has had his works or invitations pulled from exhibitions, music banned, and blog shut down on China’s largest internet platform Sina Weibo.

Photo: Ai Weiwei


» The New York Times – 26 August 2016:
Ai Weiwei planned to sculpt a ‘Redline.’ Chinese censors say he crossed one.

» The Art Newspaper – 26 August 2016:
Ai Weiwei dropped from Yinchuan Biennale in China

» Artnet News – 24 August 2016:
Ai Weiwei says he was removed from inaugural Yinchuan Biennale for political reasons

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