In a controversial move, John openly dedicated his two-hour Beijing concert Sunday night "to the spirit and talent of Ai Weiwei," he told the audience at the start of the show. To that, audible shock rumbled throughout the crowd, which typically lives in fear of artistic censorship and the government’s tight control of live performances -- officials require performers to submit song set lists for approval before shows.
Ai attended John’s concert, and even met the performer before the show, the Associated Press reported. “I super like him, although we only spent ten minutes together,” he later posted on his Twitter feed – which is banned in China but has more than 180,000 followers.
The day after the concert, mainstream mainland media reported on the show; but they did not mention John’s public support for Ai.
Ai is an internationally acclaimed artist. In October 2011, he was listed as No. 1 on ArtReview’s annual Power 100 list and last December he was a runner-up for Time’s Person of the Year.
He has used his art -- including sculpture, installation works and photography -- to comment on social injustices and various human rights issues, frequently pointing out Chinese government corruption. Following an arrest last year, he was detained for over two months; he has since been banned from leaving China.
Pop singer Bjork openly defied the Chinese government’s artistic chokehold during a 2008 concert in Shanghai; at the end of her song "Declare Independence," she shouted "Tibet, Tibet" into the crowd. The Chinese government has since clamped down even further when monitoring live concerts.
Last year Ai became highly visible in the West due to a film by Alison Klayman, “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry,” which generated Oscar buzz in the feature documentary category.
John’s Ai-dedicated concert came on the heels of last week’s Amnesty International-backed online video that featured artists and museum representatives speaking out on behalf of detained dissidents around the world.