Ian Williams Ian Williams

‘This is a massacre of thoughts’: the exiled Chinese artist Ai Weiwei on his cancellation

[Noma Bar]

This should have been a busy holiday period for the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. His exhibition at London’s Lisson Gallery was due to open last month and others were planned in New York, Paris and Berlin. They have all now been cancelled because Ai himself has been cancelled – not by the Chinese Communist party this time, but by the ‘free’ West.

Weiwei had posted on X (formerly Twitter) his thoughts about the Israel-Hamas war. However, his comments appeared to more generally attack Jewish influence and power. He wrote: ‘The sense of guilt around the persecution of the Jewish people has been, at times, transferred to offset the Arab world. Financially, culturally, and in terms of media influence, the Jewish community has had a significant presence in the United States. The annual $3 billion aid package to Israel has, for decades, been touted as one of the most valuable investments the United States has ever made. This partnership is often described as one of shared destiny.’

Soon after Ai’s comment was posted, the Lisson Gallery released a statement: ‘There is no place for debate that can be characterised as anti-Semitic or Islamophobic at a time when all efforts should be on ending the tragic suffering in Israeli and Palestinian territories, as well as in communities internationally.’

The gallery says the decision was mutual but Ai tells me this is not true. He says he simply received a notification from it and that the gallery never explained its rationale. He sees the cancellation as an attack on freedom of expression, for which he has been fighting all his life. ‘It mirrors an authoritarian culture, reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution in China and the tragic events in Germany decades ago, to put it more solemnly,’ he said.

‘I often hear museums tell me the [Chinese] embassy called them to say you should not show this guy’s art’

I met Ai before the cancellation, at his new home in Montemor-o-Novo, around an hour’s drive from Lisbon.

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Ian Williams
Written by
Ian Williams
Ian Williams is a former foreign correspondent for Channel 4 News and NBC, and author of The Fire of the Dragon: China’s New Cold War (Birlinn).

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