Chinese authorities are razing the Beijing studio of dissident artist Ai Wei Wei. He said that demolition crews showed up without advance warning, and have begun the process of tearing down the studio.
Ai has been a longtime critic of the government, and on Saturday, he began posting videos to his Instagram feed of the studio’s destruction. “Farewell,” Ai wrote. “They started to demolish my studio ‘Zuoyuo’ in Beijing with no precaution.”
The AFP reports that the rental contract on Ai’s studio expired last fall, and that Ai had “been expecting to leave the studio soon.” His assistant, Ga Rang, told the AFP that it was not possible to remove all of the artwork being stored in the studio because there was so much of it, and that the demolition put some of Ai’s work at risk.
The studio served as Ai’s main base since 2006, from which he produced many notable works. The son of famed Chinese poet Ai Qing, Ai is widely admired in China, and designed the “Bird’s Nest” stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
It was that year though, in the wake of a massive earthquake in China’s Sichuan province, that Ai emerged as an even more vocal activist and dissident. Collapsed buildings in Sichuan had buried thousands of children, and Ai began to speak as an advocate for them and their families, creating works of art in their honor. He has since criticized the Chinese government on a range of issues, from human rights to corruption.
In Beijing, the AFP reports that authorities have slated the neighborhood surrounding Ai’s studio for redevelopment. According to the AP, Beijing has destroyed “large swaths of the suburbs over the past year in a building safety campaign.”
Artnet has reported that China is abruptly evicting galleries in the neighborhood, a Beijing arts district that Ai developed, “to make way for immediate demolition.”
Artists’ neighborhoods in Beijing have long been targeted for destruction because they are often hubs of political dissent and occupy land that can be sold for a profit by real estate developers. Artists living on that land can often face quick eviction.
In 2011 for an independent documentary, Ai spoke about the destruction of artists’ neighborhoods and freedom of expression in China, saying, “If you are being treated unfairly, you have to let your voice out, and let other people know it. You cannot just be silent. ”
I do have a responsibility because my father’s generation failed. They never really successfully made their voice, and I don’t want that to happen to the later generations. I am here now, and I can do something now about it, and I will.
I think China will eventually become a democratic society, and have much freedom for the young people who want to learn more information. Who can build up their knowledge, to meet the competition, and have a better life. Nobody can stop it. It’s just a matter of time.
Police visited Ai’s Beijing studio during the filming of that interview, and shortly afterwards, the government detained Ai for more than two months on charges of tax evasion. He has said the accusations were politically motivated. He subsequently paid a $2.4 million fine, and the government confiscated his passport, preventing him from travel for several years.
At the time, Ai said he had been beaten by police, put under house arrest, and the government installed cameras outside of his home, to monitor his movements.
In 2015, Chinese authorities returned Ai’s passport, and he moved to Berlin shortly afterwards, living in self-imposed exile. Ai has since turned his attention to the plight of global refugees, which is the topic of his latest documentary, Human Flow.