Dissident artist Ai Weiwei has found a new way to tweak the sensibilities of Chinese authorities: he has announced plans to release a heavy metal album.
"When I was arrested, they would often ask me to sing songs, but because I wasn't familiar with music, I was embarrassed," Ai told Reuters on Monday.
"It helped me pass the time very easily."
Chinese authorities detained Ai in 2011 and he spent 81 days in a secret detention centre. After his release, he was charged with economic crimes and, last September, a court upheld a $2.4 million US fine against him for tax evasion. He remains restricted in his movements and is not permitted to leave Beijing.
The artist and his international supporters believe he was detained for criticizing China’s corruption and speaking out on the country's human rights record.
Sang People's Liberation Army songs in prison
During his prison stay, Ai said he sang Chinese People's Liberation Army songs, learned by every Chinese child raised in the 1960s and 1970s, during the Cultural Revolution.
The experience inspired him to do "something related to music." His forthcoming album Divina Commedia (Divine Comedy), to be issued in three weeks, will be distributed online.
The title, taken from Italian poet Dante's famed poem, is also a play on a nickname his supporters have given him: Ai God. "God" in Chinese is "Shen," while Divina Commedia in Chinese is "Shen qu."
Songs could be censored, Ai says
Ai likened creating music to creating visual art.
"I think it's all the same," he said. "My art is about expressing opinion and communication."
He also acknowledged that music, like art, is subject to government review and that his album may be blocked by censors.
Two songs, including one called Hotel Americana, are about blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng, who escaped from house arrest last April and sought refuge in the U.S. Embassy.
The second Chen song, titled Climbing over the Wall, refers to the way the activist scaled walls in his village to escape. The song also refers to how Chinese internet users must circumvent the "great firewall of China" to communicate with the outside world.
Ai noted he was working on a second album, with pop and rock influences.
"I'm a person that's furthest away from music. I never sing," Ai told Reuters. "But you'll be surprised. You'll like it."