News / Arts & Entertainment

    Expression on Trial in Play of Ai Weiwei's Arrest

    Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei sits on a chair in the courtyard of his studio, in Beijing, June 20, 2012.
    Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei sits on a chair in the courtyard of his studio, in Beijing, June 20, 2012.
    Reuters
    Dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei was in two places at once on Wednesday night. In Beijing, barred from leaving the country, and in the leafy London borough of Hampstead - on stage.

    Such a breaking of boundaries has come to define Ai. The sculptor, photographer and installation artist is famed for filling London's Tate Modern with porcelain seeds and as a consultant on China's National "Bird's Nest" Stadium. But he also has snapped his wife flashing her knickers in Tiananmen Square.

    The world premiere of "#aiww: The Arrest of Ai Weiwei," which opened to a packed Hampstead theater, addresses the artist's clash with Chinese authority over freedom of expression. The title's hashtag is a reference to Ai's prolific use of social networking site Twitter to get his message out.

    "There is a force you cannot avoid," says Ai's character, played by Benedict Wong, as the play opens. He is standing in front of his new work, four connected walls which stand inside a gallery, surrounded by visitors and fans. He signs an autograph.

    As the scene changes the walls become a prison cell.

    Just hours before in Beijing, Ai told Reuters that the play based on Barnaby Martin's book "Hanging Man" was the fruit of interviews that he hoped would help to demonstrate the monolithic truths of a Chinese state which holds him physically captive, but can't seem to stop his ideas from seeping out.

    "This society lacks transparency, lacks a platform and space for public opinion. So that's why I accepted the interviews and the play finally worked out," Ai told Reuters TV.

    Howard Brenton's play tells the story of the Chinese artist's 81 days in custody.

    Ai was arrested at Beijing airport in April 2011 before a flight to Hong Kong. He was held without explanation before being charged with tax evasion and given a $2.4 million bill.

    He supposedly confessed to the charge while in custody but later disputed it, losing his ultimate court appeal last September.

    "I think the reason behind the play is to let the truth out, to let the people in the world understand what kind of condition we live in," Ai said.

    Kafkaesque theme

    The telling of the story of Ai's darkest hours to date is in keeping with the artist and the theme of the play - that personal expression is sacrosanct.

    "Everything mentioned [in the play] is fact and it also is an art work," said Ai.

    The play will be streamed for free on the Internet, a first for a mainstream London theater, allowing the story to reach a global audience.

    An artist's "job is about communication and expression. These are the core values of life, of being individuals. Most people don't realize that they have to fight for this, but for us artists, it's necessary," Ai wrote in a column for the Guardian this week.

    This role of the artist frequently has been at odds with the Chinese party line. In the play Ai's interrogators call him a con-man and a swindler, selling junk for profit.

    A Chinese minister, when asked what should be done with Ai, said "get him to go back to painting leaves and pagodas."

    Throughout the play runs an absurdity, a lack of explanation or sense, that is reminiscent of Kafka.

    "The play isn't deliberately Kafka-like, but the interrogations were often inexplicable, bizarre, they came at Ai Weiwei from very curious angles then will break down," said Brenton. "Rather like Kafka's 'The Trial,' Josef K.'s experience, he could not make sense of what was happening to him."

    But unlike Kafka, humanity shines through the cracks in the system. There remains a sense of humor and of hope that freedom of expression cannot be suppressed forever.

    At one point the interrogation of Ai breaks down into a conversation about how to make the perfect Beijing noodles. When he is moved to an army camp the soldiers guarding him complain about their jobs and the difficulty of their training.

    By the end, the interrogators admit that "talking to you, we've changed our view of art."

    In the background, however, violence always looms.

    "One day though, we will have to open fire," a security official said about the threat of rebellion. "And we will," responded his colleague.

    Ai told Reuters he was not afraid of fallout from the play. "I don't think it will bring me more danger because I have already gone through it."

    You May Like

    New EU Asylum Rules Could Boost Rightists

    New regulations will seek to correct EU failures in dealing with migrant crisis, most notably inability to get member states to absorb a total of 160,000 refugees

    More Political Turmoil Likely in Iraq as Iran Waits in the Wings

    Analysts warn that Tehran, even though it may not be engineering the Sadrist protests in Baghdad, is seeking to leverage its influence on its neighbor

    Forced Anal Testing Case to Appear Before Kenya Court

    Men challenge use of anal examinations to ‘prove homosexuality’; practice accomplishes nothing except to humiliate those subjected to them, according to Human Rights Watch

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Rulingi
    X
    May 03, 2016 5:16 PM
    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora

    New in Music Alley

    Border Crossings: A Great Big Worldi
    || 0:00:00
    ...  
     
    X
    April 27, 2016 12:30 PM
    Duo Ian Axel and Chad King who are better known as "A Great Big World" released their sophomore CD in 2015, "When the Morning Comes" and they join Border Crossings host Larry London to perform songs from the new CD and also their biggest hit, "Say Something."

    Duo Ian Axel and Chad King who are better known as "A Great Big World" released their sophomore CD in 2015, "When the Morning Comes" and they join Border Crossings host Larry London to perform songs from the new CD and also their biggest hit, "Say Something."