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

Turkey's Erdogan: Women Not Equal to Men

Speaking at conference in Istanbul, President Erdogan says Islam has defined a position for women: motherhood More

Ahead of SAARC Summit, Subdued Expectations

Some regional analysts say distrust between Pakistani, Indian officials has slowed SAARC's progress over the year More

Philippines Leery of Development on Reef Reclamation in S. China Sea

Chinese land reclamation projects in area have been ongoing for years, but new satellite imagery reportedly shows China’s massive construction project More

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.
Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Changei
X
November 24, 2014 10:09 PM
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Soul Lounge

Avery Sunshine is known for her irresistible combination of soul, jazz and gospel influences. She’s traveled the world entertaining audiences with her powerful voice, inspiring lyrics and infectious spirit. She joins host Shawna Renee on "The Soul Lounge" to perform and share the stories behind her new album, "The Sun Room."