Demonstrators in L.A. show support for Ai Weiwei


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Supporters of Ai Weiwei turned out in cities around the world Sunday to peacefully protest the dissident artist’s imprisonment by Chinese officials. In Los Angeles, close to 40 people gathered Sunday afternoon in front of the Chinese Consulate as part of the worldwide sit-down demonstration demanding the artist’s release.

Sunday’s demonstration was coordinated by the group Creative Time, a nonprofit organization that commissions and presents public art projects. The group announced the protest last week via Facebook. It called for supporters to bring chairs to Chinese embassies and consulates around the world and engage in a peaceful demonstration for one hour.


The use of chairs is a reference to Ai’s installation ‘Fairytale: 1001 Qing Dynasty Wooden Chairs’ that was shown in 2007 at Documenta 12 in Kassel, Germany.

In L.A., demonstrators gathered in front of the consulate’s main entrance on Shatto Place in Koreatown. In addition to chairs they brought posters and fliers that called for the artist’s release. Ai was taken into custody this month while attempting to travel from Beijing to Hong Kong. Many believe that the Chinese government is retaliating against the artist for his activism in the realms of free speech and human rights.

Tim Blum, the co-owner of the Blum & Poe gallery near Culver City, came to the demonstration with his wife, Maria, and their three children who range in age from 8 to 13. Blum said that he was ‘profoundly shocked’ when he learned that Ai had been arrested. ‘I was fortunate to have met him at his studio,’ Blum said. ‘This whole incident has been a lesson in freedom of expression.’

The group of demonstrators featured a number of local artists and students. Lauren Cronk, an art student from Pitzer College in Claremont, said she had been following Ai’s case in connection to her studies of China’s art scene. Matt Weikel, an L.A. artist, said he came because he believed that ‘artistic expression is a human right.’

No one from the Chinese Consulate emerged to address the crowd. A few members of the L.A. Police Department arrived midway through the demonstration, saying that ‘a citizen’ had placed a call. But the police did not attempt to break up the event.

Demonstrators left behind two empty chairs on the sidewalk in front of the building as a reminder of the protest.


Supporters of Ai also gathered Sunday in New York, Berlin, Hong Kong and other cities. The Guardian reported that in Hong Kong 150 protesters came up against lines of police, while in Berlin, about 200 people took part in a largely silent demonstration. Ai had been planning to make Berlin his part-time home before he was detained.

Museums around the world have signed a petition demanding Ai’s immediate release. Among the signatories are the L.A. County Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.


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Artist Ai Weiwei (pictured in his studio, left) talks about digital activism


-- David Ng