Ai Weiwei, Chinese dissident

Ai Weiwei: “My art will never change”

  • Chinese artist and political activist has accepted new professorship in Berlin, but is unsure when he can go
  • Ai, under house arrest, told Metro art and freedom of expression are “deep in his bones”, even after living in “extreme conditions” in jail
  • Ai’s 11-week detention over “suspected economic crimes” triggered international fury

China’s leading dissident artist Ai Weiwei has accepted a new teaching post at an arts university in Germany, but did not know whether the Chinese authorities will allow him to assume the role.

Ai, 54, who was released from jail in China in June after sentenced in April for “suspected economic crimes” but is now under house arrest, told Metro in a Skype telephone interview that he was happy to take on this guest professorship but added he was uncertain when he would be able to leave China.

Our Metro correspondent in Beijing was one of the first Western journalists to interview Ai since his release on June 22:

How long will be your new job contract?

I’m not sure how long it will be. But if I remember correctly, it is an assignment as a teacher there at Berlin University of Arts for three years.

Why did you accept this new role?

It’s an important position, especially when I’m in such a difficult situation. After 81 days put away, I was happy to accept this invitation. It’s important to do something for teaching. But I won’t have a chance to leave for a year. My passport has been taken away. I am not allowed to leave Beijing. I have to report to the police before I go shopping or to a restaurant or to meet friends. They usually allow me to go, but of course I am followed by officers in plain clothes.

What have you been doing these days?

I have to adjust myself – my body – after living in extreme conditions. I have to spend more time with my family.

Has it affected your art?

My art will never change. It is deep in my bones. But it has made many things clearer. I have been working in the direction of freedom of expression. I think that is most important for my art.

What conditions were you kept in?

I cannot talk about that, because even doing this interview I am not supposed to…

FACTBOX: Ai Weiwei

  • Born May 18, 1957, the son of parents who were sent to a labor camp due to his poet father’s political activities
  • Enrolled at the Beijing Film Academy; throughout the 1980s, lived in New York, creating conceptual art with readymade objects.
  • In 1993, returned to China where he helped set up an artist community focusing on experimental art
  • Made famous outside of China for his role in designing the “Bird’s Nest” Olympic stadium for the 2008 Beijing Games
  •  His art and architectural work has been put on display all over the West, notably his 2010’s exhibit “Sunflower Seeds” inside the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in London.
  •  Has been an outspoken critic of Chinese authorities and their policies, involved controversial social campaigns revealing scandals within China
  •  Has avidly embraced Twitter as a medium of communication – has tweeted more than 60,000 times, with more than 89,000 followers

By Jordan Pouille Metro World News in Beijing