Sunday, July 12, 2009

A Really Brave Artist From China

During the "dark days" of the Bush Administration artists like The Dixie Chicks were considered brave because they spoke "truth to power."

Whatever that means.

Sure they got hate mail and death threats. Certainly not cool. But they were still able to earn a living. There was no possibility of them seeing the inside of a jail cell.

Occasionally, when I read conservative poetry at the Cantab Lounge people will approach me and tell me how brave I am.

Bravery is a label I reject out of hand. The worst that can happen to me is that I will never be invited as a featured poet anywhere. I can live with it. I get to go home at the end of the night.

However the same cannot be said for Chinese artists like Ai Weiwei. He has known trouble from the day he was born. His father was Ai Qing, a Chinese poet who was branded as a "rightist" by Mao and spent a better part of two decades in a labor camp. Ai Weiwei spent some time there as a child.

He spent a dozen years in the U.S. where he honed his craft in architectural design but would return in 1993 to tend to his ailing father who died in 1996. It was back in China that his reputation as an artist grew by leaps and bounds.

Although never a friend of the Chinese Communists he was asked to participate in the design of Beijing National Stadium (a.k.a. Bird's Nest) for the 2008 Olympics. Ai did so but would later distance himself from the project and declined to attending the opening ceremonies.

Ai's ire was raised in May 2008 after the earthquake in Sichuan Province which is estimated to have claimed the lives of 68,000 people. Many of those killed were schoolchildren in what have been described as "tofu-dreg schoolhouses."

Ai began his own investigation of the earthquake and collected the names of more than 5,000 schoolchildren who perished. He has asserted the deaths of these children were a direct consequence of corruption on the part of local Communist Party officials who were pocketing monies intended for the construction of schools.

Now China has shut down his blog and Twitter account. The police are a constant presence in his life and that of his elderly mother.

Could prison be in Ai Weiwei's future? Could he face the same fate as his father?

Needless to say, no Hollywood liberal was ever subjected to this sort of treatment by the Bush Administration.

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