With Flowers, Ai Weiwei Protests His Loss of Freedom

SinosphereDecember 30, 2013



Every morning the artist and dissident Ai Weiwei places fresh flowers in the basket of a bicycle outside his Beijing studio in a pretty protest at something serious: a government ban on his freedom to travel.


Last Monday, by the bluish-green door to his studio at No. 258 Caochangdi, bright orange and red African daisies were seen in the basket of the black Taiwanese Giant bicycle.


The flowers have provided a burst of color against the gray Beijing sky, and Mr. Ai’s quirky form of protest is being talked about, with amusement, by other artists living and working nearby in the arts district not far from Beijing’s international airport.


A recent post on his Twitter feed read: “Since Nov. 30, 2013, every morning I am putting a bouquet of flowers in the basket of a bicycle outside the front door of the No. 258 Caochangdi studio until I win back the right to travel.” Then he noted the day the photograph was taken: “The 27th day, Dec. 26, 2013.”


Earlier this month Mr. Ai told The New York Times: “My passport has been in the hands of the police for almost three years now,” adding, “I’ve lost my ability to travel.”


The artist, who has long angered the Chinese authorities with his outspoken politics and art, has not had a passport and has been barred from leaving the country since April 2011, when he was detained for 81 days on charges of tax evasion.


His detention came the day after a major exhibition, “The Art of the Enlightenment,” financed by German companies and organizations and the German government, opened in Beijing. In the aftermath, some members of the German Parliament called for the exhibition to be shut down, saying it was ironic that the prominent artist should be detained so close to a major arts event that celebrated tolerance and humanism, according to the German television and radio station Deutsche Welle. The show remained open.

他被拘留之时正值一场由德国企业、机构和德国政府资助的大型展览“启蒙的艺术”(The Art of the Enlightenment)在北京开幕的第二天。据德国广播电视台德国之声(Deutsche Welle)报道,此后一些德国议员呼吁关闭展览,他们认为,就在离一场赞颂宽容和人道主义的重要艺术活动不远的地方,知名艺术家可以这样被拘禁,实为讽刺。展览最终照常进行。

Mr. Ai is still exhibiting outside China, including in the former prison on Alcatraz Island in California.


The exhibition, which will open in September, will mark the first time the former penitentiary has been used to show the works of a major contemporary artist. Mr. Ai said he had never visited Alcatraz but was interested in exploring conditions in which individuals are stripped of basic human rights: “The idea of loss of freedom as a punishment raises philosophical questions,” he said in a telephone interview.


Mr. Ai is also participating in overseas events via video message. On Jan. 31 he will take part that way in a discussion at Transmediale, a festival of digital culture in Berlin, titled: “The Chinese Dream: The Doctrine and the Sexy.” (This writer will also be speaking.)

艾未未还会通过视频参与海外的活动。1月31日,他将以这种形式参与在柏林举行的数码文化活动转译媒体艺术节(Transmediale)的一场座谈,题为《中国梦:主义与性感》(The Chinese Dream: The Doctrine and the Sexy)。(本文作者也将进行发言。)


狄雨霏(Didi Kirsten Tatlow)是《纽约时报》驻京记者。