Chinese activist-artist's studio razed
Last Updated: Thursday, January 13, 2011 | 11:49 AM ET
China's Ai Weiwei watched his newly built Shanghai art studio be torn down this week — a demolition the noted Chinese artist says is tied to his vocal political activism.
Work crews arrived early Tuesday to demolish the studio. Ai, who was in Beijing, flew down to Shanghai as soon as he was alerted. Both the structure and a neighbouring studio he designed for a friend were brought down by 9 p.m. local time that day.
"They wanted to demolish it overnight without us finding out because they were worried the demolition would attract attention," the 53-year-old told the BBC.
"We asked why it was demolished earlier than when we were told, and they just answered that sooner or later, it would have been done anyway."
According to Ai, he was told demolition would take place after Feb. 3, the lunar new year.
However, an exact date was not provided to the artist, Chen Jie, director of the urban construction department in Malu township, told China's Global Times newspaper.
"We told them the studio would be demolished within a certain period of time, but there was no specific time given," Chen said this week.
Invited to build studio in district
Ai began building the studio in a suburban district in Malu township a few years ago, one of several artists invited to do so by government officials hoping to revive the district as a cultural hub. The officials vowed to procure the necessary paperwork for the studio, which cost about $1 million US, Ai said.
But last summer, the Beijing-based artist received notice his Shanghai site was to be destroyed because he had built it without proper permits.
In November, Ai planned a party at the studio to "celebrate" its imminent demise. Though he was placed under house arrest in Beijing and was unable to attend, hundreds of friends and fans arrived to support him.
Ai has gained international renown for various projects in recent years, including his collaboration on the acclaimed "Bird's Nest" stadium built for the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and the popular Sunflower Seeds art installation at London's Tate Modern in 2010.
However, his activism against Chinese corruption and human rights violations has earned censure from the government.
His political work has included making a film about a Chinese activist forced to remain in Tokyo's airport when denied re-entry into Shanghai and an online series exploring the death toll from the Sichuan earthquake, which killed thousands of schoolchildren.
Police in plain clothes followed the artist and activist, the blog detailing his Sichuan investigation was shut down, and he suffered a beating just before he was due to testify on behalf of another activist researching the earthquake.
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