'I nearly died': An Ai WeiWei Update


A few months back I wrote about Chinese artist Ai WeiWei (‘Where in the World is Ai WeiWei?‘) who was recovering in a hospital bed in Munich after brain surgery. Back then it was still unclear whether the serious operation was related to a brain haemorrhage Ai had suffered from being struck in the head by a police officer in China this past summer. Now it seems clear that this was indeed the case. Last month, Newsweek published an article, ‘My Ordeal,’ written by the artist, architect, designer and filmmaker himself in which he says that on the morning of August 12, 2009, he was ‘visited’ by approximately 30 policemen, one of whom punched him in the head. Ai wrote, ‘A month later I nearly died from a brain haemorrhage.’

This week The New York Times also published a piece on the subject, corroborating Ai’s account and shedding further light on the current precarious situation that he is in. For one, since I last touched on Ai, it seems that both of his blogs have been shut down. Also, according to the article, his studio is now being monitored by surveillance cameras, and his finances are being ‘watched’ by the government. If true, this is both ironic and frightening for an the artist whose art is becoming more and more political despite his having chosen the career to escape being confined by the societal parameters of his native country.

The police actions seem likely to have been prompted by Ai’s participation in an effort to shed light on the death of thousands of children in allegedly unstable schoolhouses after an earthquake hit China’s Sichuan province in 2008. And in a touching update, Ai’s latest exhibit in Munich, called ‘So Sorry’ consists of 9,000 children’s backpacks displayed on a wall that spell out: ‘She lived happily on this earth for seven years’ in Chinese — a quote from one of the deceased children’s mothers.

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