When I began blogging, back in 2011, one story that I covered in several posts was the imprisonment of artist Ai Weiwei by the Chinese government. The charges against him were spurious and obviously politically-motivated. He was jailed for 81 days, and eventually fined $2.4 million for “tax evasion.” I won’t link to my old posts, as I have changed blog sites and intend to delete the old blog eventually. Whatever you might think of his art, Ai Weiwei has become symbolic of artistic freedom in the face of government pressure.
It is with a great but cautious sense of relief that I read the news today: Ai Weiwei has had his passport returned to him by the Chinese authorities, and may travel abroad again. That, at least, is the impression. Pardon me if I am a bit mistrustful of the Chinese government.
Whenever governments interfere with artists, whether it be Russia and Pussy Riot, Cuba and Tania Bruguera, or the now-concluded (I hope) Ai Weiwei affair, every art lover should be concerned. Art is universal, and does not recognize the fiction that is governmental authority. Oh, artists are not anarchists – well, a few, such as Camille Pissarro, have been – rather, they recognize a longer-term structure, that outlives governments and speaks to a wider culture. Look around you, and study how the powers that be in your town, county, state, and nation approach the arts. If their relationship is antagonistic or dismissive, ask yourself if it isn’t time for things to change.