Chinese artist and free speech activist Ai Weiwei is famous for butting heads with Chinese authorities. In 2008 he accused the government of a cover-up after hundreds of children died in poorly built schools during the Sichuan earthquake. Online he’s an energetic champion of free speech via blogs and social media.
Weiwei’s international profile as an artist and political figure has kept him relatively safe from government harassment, but in 2011 he was arrested at the Beijing airport and then put in prison, in solitary confinement, for 81 days.
When Weiwei was finally released he was placed under constant video surveillance, had his phones tapped, was forbidden from talking to the press or making art, and hit with a highly suspect 1.8 million dollar fine for unpaid taxes.
During this time, my guest, filmmaker Andreas Johnsen, documented Ai Weiwei and his daily life in the year following his release from prison. In Andreas’ film, called The Fake Case, we get a quiet look at Weiwei’s world as he tries to adjust to life and make art under the constant threat of government harassment or worse.
On this week’s show I speak with Andreas Johnsen about Ai Weiwei, life under surveillance, and the role of art and activism in China.
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