In his article in the Daily Telegraph today, Boris argues that it is not right that the disappearance of the controversial modern artist Ai Weiwei has not been the subject of more protest throughout the world. His wife, family and lawyer have been unable to found out any details of how he is doing.
Boris says: “Mr Ai has just had a huge, one-man show at Tate Modern, with about a million painted ceramic sunflower seeds, and his works are still drawing the crowds at Somerset House. Artists such as Anish Kapoor (and writers such as Salman Rushdie in this newspaper) have protested at his treatment — but from the politicos the response is verging on the muted. All we have had from the Government, as far as I can see, is a terse statement of disapproval issued by William Hague in early April. Even in the liberal media, there is a curious apathy about the case.
Where are the candlelit vigils, the rallies for Ai Weiwei? Where are the newspaper campaigns and petitions, the why-oh-why-oh-weiweis? Mr Ai’s work may not be everyone’s idea of “art”. He is a conceptual artist, a provocateur. Riffling through a handsome Phaidon edition of his works, I find a series of photographs in which he seems to be flipping his middle finger at the White House, the Eiffel Tower and the Gate of Heavenly Peace in Tiananmen Square.
There is another series in which he is, for some reason, dropping an expensive Han Dynasty vase on the floor. There is a young girl flashing her knickers in front of a picture of Chairman Mao, a big exhibition in Shanghai called F— Off, a mutant table with two legs up against the wall and a cubic ton of compressed tea leaves. You can see why he is not everyone’s cube of tea, and certainly not in the Chinese Communist party.”
After describing Mr. Ai’s background, Boris goes on: “In China, the very fact of his disappearance has itself disappeared. Plug his name into a Chinese search engine, and nothing comes up. They have super-injuncted him out of the story, and the West has responded with the diplomatic equivalent of a protracted fit of coughing. Such leeriness is almost understandable, really.
China today is a very different strategic proposition from the Soviet Union of the 1980s. It was frankly easier to protest at the treatment of dissidents such as Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn, because no one believed that the future belonged to Russia. On the contrary, we could all see that it was a basket case, an economy that couldn’t supply enough bath plugs for its hotels. No one worried about cheesing off Russian investors — because there weren’t any. It was Upper Volta with rockets.”
The Mayor’s passionate belief in the right of every man to free speech and free expression is a keynote of his character. The Daily Telegraph said, in a profile of the artist: “Ai is one of China’s most famous contemporary artists. His career spans protests for artistic freedom in 1979, provocative works in the 1990s. Along with his artistic success, his outspoken criticism of the authoritarian regime in China has put him on a collision course with the government, and he caused outrage when he distanced himself from the Beijing National Stadium project, which he called a “pretend smile” in reference to the country’s appalling human rights record.
In 2009 he drew the attention of the Chinese authorities when he published a list of 5,835 names of students killed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake on his blog. This lead to his blog being shut down and he claims he was detained and beaten by police for trying to testify on behalf of his fellow investigator, Tan Zuoren, about the poor construction that lead to student casualties in the earthquake.”
I am also impressed that Boris, in all seriousness, I am absolutely positive, talks about this being the Chinese Year of the Rabbit. He says: “But then I had forgotten that this is the Chinese Year of the Rabbit. What we are hearing is the silence of the rabbits — and all the global rabbits are hoping that if they keep still and say nothing, they will be rewarded with nice, big, crispy wodges of Chinese lettuce.” Boris was born in 1964, the Year of the Dragon. The Dragon is the most powerful of the Chinese signs, naturally. Read my analysis of the Chinese astrological signs of many of our leaders here. Boris’s article in the Daily Telegraph can be read in full here.