On April 3, internationally renowned Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei was detained at the Beijing Airport by government authorities and no one has heard from him since. His artwork has been displayed in galleries across the world. During the 2008 Olympics, he collaborated on the construction of Beijing National Stadium. Since his incarceration, activists across the world have rallied in support of him.
Documentary filmmaker Alison Klayman lived in China from 2006 to 2010 and got to know activist Ai Weiwei personally while reporting the story "Who's Afraid of Ai Weiwei" for PBS Frontline. Ms. Klayman also has a feature documentary film "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry" that will be released later this year.Visit her Kickstarter here where she has raised almost $45,000 for funding post-production costs of the documentary.
Today, from 2:00pm to 3:00pm EST, Alison is here to answer any questions you might have about Ai Weiwei, China, activism, and her upcoming documentary feature. If you want to ask Alison a question, leave a comment or tweet your question using the hashtag #ChinaChat.
05/11/2011 3:18 PM EDT
Final thoughts from Alison KlaymanThanks for all of your thoughtful questions. Since I spend my days and nights working on “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” and thinking about how to tell Ai Weiwei’s story, I am especially moved by the chance today to engage with others, exchanging ideas openly and freely, because that’s a big part of what Weiwei’s work and beliefs are all about. Continue to ask me anything on Twitter by writing to @AWWNeverSorry or @aliklay. Follow the film on Facebook, request a screening of the film in your city on our website, and there are still 17 days to contribute to our Kickstarter campaign. We are so grateful to the 622 people who have already pledged to help us meet the enormous costs of finishing a film. Now we are really rushing to complete post-production and get the movie out into the world.
05/11/2011 3:03 PM EDT
Do you think Weiwei is OK?
From HuffPost user gregorylent:
Do you think he is still alive? What is your inner sense?
Hearing questions like that immediately make me feel sick inside, because it’s such a horrifying thought. I have no reason to believe he is not alive. At the same time, all of us are very worried about his physical well-being, both in terms of the treatment he is receiving and also because he is not someone is perfect health. I don’t think the people that know him well are worried about how he is holding up mentally. He is a man of strong resolve.
05/11/2011 2:52 PM EDT
Who is funding your film project?
From @as50as on Twitter:
Did Aiweiwei spend money to support "never sorry" film?
No, I was working independently and covered all my own expenses. Creatively as well, the film is a product of my own vision, and he totally recognizes that and I know is very eager to see how it turns out. He was as curious as anyone, believe me!
05/11/2011 2:48 PM EDT
What would Ai Weiwei do?
From @aliklay on Twitter:
What do you think Ai Weiwei would do about his own detention?Great question! I assume you mean if he was outside looking at his own detention...Let me enter the realm of speculation here, because of course I don’t know for sure. But I have been thinking about this a lot. Like I said earlier, I wonder if he would call for something along the lines of Anish Kapoor’s suggested worldwide museum closure for a day. He would almost certainly keep vigil online of how many hours/days he was gone, and the same goes for others who have also disappeared- from his friends and associates like Wen Tao and Xiao Pang, to bloggers like Ran Yunfei and lawyers brought in for questioning like Li Fangping or Liu Xiaoyuan. In fact, some of Weiwei’s online followers do post on Twitter every day at 8:04am Beijing time (the time he was taken away at the airport on April 3) exactly how many days and hours Ai Weiwei, and his associates, have been missing. Weiwei would probably also exhaust all legal channels available, petitioning relevant authorities to release information about his detention. This would all be meticulously recorded on a Google Document, available for anyone to view. Of course, he’d probably do many other much more creative and cheeky things, both in the online realm and possibly in his art, or through calling for a public gathering. The best thing about Ai Weiwei is that there’s always something new.
05/11/2011 2:40 PM EDT
Are graffiti protests effective?
From @spacelib on Twitter:
Do you think graffiti protests like Tangerine's in HK: http://bit.ly/jmB2vC or in AR: http://bit.ly/kkxApD are effective?
I watched the graffiti work of individuals like Tangerine in Hong Kong (partially inspired by the title of my Frontline PBS story, “Who’s Afraid of Ai Weiwei?”) grow into such a large phenomenon, both in terms of artists participating in the tagging, and the international media attention it was getting. This completely grassroots evolution makes me want to say yes, it is effective. Effective in terms of encouraging people to be brave, to express themselves, and to spread information. These, not coincidentally, are all values that Ai Weiwei hopes to promote through his writing and his art.
05/11/2011 2:35 PM EDT
How has Weiwei's detention changed you as a filmmaker?
From HuffPost user duckpajamas:
How has Ai Weiwei's detention changed your approach to making the film, if at all?
My documentary “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” was nearing a rough cut when he was detained, but of course the events since April 3 make us look at the story of the last few years in a new light. Besides revising the edit, I have gone back to filming, capturing the protests and art openings taking place in his absence. I would say the story has not changed radically, but the meaning has. It is still a verite-style film about the most recent years of his life, of course including interview footage with family and peers that puts it in context with his whole biography up until now. It always seemed like these most recent years, as Ai Weiwei started using the Internet and becoming more famous for both his art and activism, were really significant in the life of a man who already had many significant and powerful periods- his youth in domestic exile with a father labelled a class enemy, the 1980s in New York, the 1990s in a burgeoning Chinese art scene. But it seems as though our suspicions were accurate, that something urgent was happening with Ai Weiwei. Although he is an international art star on the world stage, saying what he wants, engaging freely with people online in China and around the world, the whole time he truly was putting himself at risk. And his detention is the proof.
05/11/2011 2:23 PM EDT
What is your take on Anish Kapoor's recent actions?
From @rudykatoch on Twitter:
What is your opinion of Anish Kapoor dedicating his new installation" Leviathan" at the Grand Palais in Paris to #AiWeiWei?
I think that’s exactly the kind of bold and courageous statement that we (supporters of Ai Weiwei) are capable of right now, given our inability to directly bring about Ai Weiwei’s release. Anish Kapoor’s work is incredible and his willingness to register his opinion publicly will, I hope, be repeated over and over by other artists, musicians, creators, free thinkers. Kapoor’s call for museums around the world to close for one day also reminded me of Ai Weiwei’s own style of protest. In July 2009 he called a one-day “Internet boycott” in protest of the Chinese government’s announcement that they would install new computers with a web filtering software known as “Green Dam”. The same day the boycott was scheduled, the government postponed implementation of the program, so the day became a celebration instead. Weiwei threw a party in Beijing, open to all.
Read about it here: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/744ae9be-6639-11de-a034-00144feabdc0.html
05/11/2011 2:17 PM EDT
What can we do?
From @DBushmanPaley on Twitter:
#AiWeiwei did great event at #PaleyCenter with Jack Dorsey. I'm feeling so helpless about his plight. Anything at all we can do?
I was at that Paley Center event last March, when Ai Weiwei spoke with Jack Dorsey about social media’s role in activism (I was filming for my documentary then). That event feels especially prescient in hindsight, after the last few months of the “Arab Spring” and “Jasmine Revolution”-- and now one year later Ai Weiwei himself has been detained.
It is hard to know what to do that will directly impact the Chinese government, who have ultimate discretion over his fate. Petitions like on change.org or avaaz.org are one way to register your opinion, but I think it’s just as important to talk about Ai Weiwei with people you know, contacting people of influence in the government or art world or media...really I think the only power we have now is raising awareness in hopes that it will lead to some change in events. I am hoping that my film, which was already in post-production after spending years filming Ai Weiwei, can be a testament to what Ai Weiwei is about and why it is in China’s best interest to let him freely express himself-- both his criticisms and hopes for society.
05/11/2011 2:06 PM EDT
Where is Weiwei?From @rudykatoch on Twitter:
I want to know where he's being held.
I think hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people around the world are wondering that same thing. Chinese authorities have declined to give any information about his location or the status of any investigation or charges they are considering. His family is supposed to receive an official notification about where Ai Weiwei is being held, but they have not yet received one either.
05/11/2011 2:01 PM EDT
Is it safe to speak one's mind in China?
From @BLARACENA on Twitter:
My first time in China in a couple of weeks. The way I see it is you can't express yourself or they'll lock you up! Is that so?
That might be an extreme fear, especially if you’re going to China for tourism or some other kind of innocuous travel. The reality is there is a great deal of latitude afforded to people in China- both Chinese citizens and visitors. It’s a big country and the government can’t pay attention to everyone all the time. The trouble comes when you reach a high enough profile and engage in sensitive activities that the government decides to take action. Don’t expect a big brother feeling unless you’re someone they are already aware of...
Ben Worcester contributed to this post.