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Ai Weiwei made fellow of U.K. art academy

Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei has been made an honorary member of Britain's Royal Academy of Art, the latest effort by the international arts community to keep the spotlight on his detention.

China shuts down Beijing exhibit that mentions artist

Chinese artist Ai WeiWei is shown in 2009, as he arrives to give support to another prominent dissident, Liu Xiaobo. Both are now in prison. (David Gray/Reuters)

Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei has been made an honorary member of Britain's Royal Academy of Art, the latest effort by the international arts community to keep the spotlight on his detention.

The artist, an outspoken critic of the Chinese government, has been in jail since April 3 for what China has called economic crimes.

Britain's Royal Academy described Ai as "one of the most significant cultural figures of his generation." It also gave honorary membership to Per Kirkeby, one of Denmark's most prominent contemporary artists. The tributes came after a vote by the academy's 80 members.

Artists around the world are calling attention to Ai, who they believe is being detained to prevent his voice being heard.

Organizers of Chinese show detained

Inside China, artists have largely been silent until this week, when a Beijing show featuring 19 artists left a wall blank in tribute to Ai. The dissident artist's name was listed below a blank space at the Incidental Art Festival, which opened Wednesday.

The mere mention of Ai was too much for Chinese officials, who shut down the entire show, closing the doors of the CCD300 gallery on Thursday morning.

Three organizers of the festival, including Lin Bing, have disappeared and are believed to be in police detention.

Ai himself was considered missing for four days after being barred from boarding a flight to Hong Kong in April. China later acknowledged his arrest, saying he was guilty of income tax evasion.

Hong Kong artists protest

A group of young Hong Kong artists have rallied to his cause, saying Ai's arrest is part of a Chinese crackdown on activists  after it was suggested the Chinese people should follow the examples of Egypt and Tunisia by protesting their country's political constraints.

A former British colony, Hong Kong is now part of China, but has its own political system that allows freedom of expression.  

In April, Ai supporters held a large protest at the city's Victoria Park. At the huge Hong Kong International Art Fair, one booth is devoted to Ai's 2007 sculpture Marble Arm, depicts a life-sized arm and hand extending its middle finger to an unseen person.

Anonymous graffiti artists have also spray-painted Ai's face and freedom slogans across Hong Kong and others are talking to the media about the artist.

There also have been protests in New York and in London calling for his release.

Among China's most prominent contemporary artists, Ai helped design the Bird's Nest stadium for the Beijing Olympics. In October, he exhibited an installation of handpainted ceramic sunflower seeds  at London's Tate Modern art gallery, saying the 100 million seeds were a way of questioning the role of an individual in society.