The word for crab in Chinese is "hexie" which is also a homonym for "harmony"—government code for censorship (as in, let us all live in harmony, without dissent). When the government decided to bulldoze the Shanghai studio of world famous artist and activist Ai Weiwei, he invited artists and followers to attend the razing, and feast on a banquet of river crabs. Hence the crabs on this piece, some spelling out 258 FAKE, the name of Ai's main design studio in Beijing.
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The Chinese government has a love/hate relationship with Ai. In 2010, they gave him land to build a studio in Shanghai. Ai was wary but he indeed built a studio. Just as it was finished, the government notified him they were going to destroy it. Ai emailed and twittered artists and followers to join him for a feast at the scheduled destruction, the studio's first and last art piece.
"For food, he would serve river crabs, a politically loaded entrée that sounds like the Mandarin word for 'harmony'—the government's term for a society that is free of dissent. Word spread online and, by the eve of the party, Ai was poised for a mini Woodstock. Then he was placed under house arrest in Beijing. The party went on without him." (New Yorker Magazine, Jan 12, 2011, by Evan Osnos)
Ai Weiwei was again arrested on April 3, 2011 and his studio ransacked by Chinese authorities. His assistants were also apprehended and "disappeared." Trumped up charges by the government include tax evasion (symbolized by the abacus in this piece).
For months, his location remained secret. Major museums, state departments, and human rights groups called for his release. In the past, he has been beaten by Chinese police and almost died from his injuries. Two days before Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's European tour, Ai was released conditionally on June 22, 2011. He is forbidden to speak to media or tweet for one year, "confessed" to tax evasion, and has agreed to pay back taxes and fines of $1.85 million, though his lawyers are fighting these charges.
The photo in the piece is a black and white print out of a poster circulated on the Internet, and designed by the design firm map office. It resembles a mug shot or wanted poster, one you might see on a post office wall or wooden fence.
Ai's sunflower seed installation sold at the Tate in London for $500K. TIME lists him among their 100 most influential people of 2011. Google Ai Weiwei to find out more and see his art (including the Bird's Nest stadium for the Chinese Olympics, and his installation about the "nameless" children killed in the Chinese earthquake, featuring children's backpacks).
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