Saturday, June 28, 2014

Guantanamo Echoes: Ai Weiwei Depicts State Repression in (China? USA?)

Ai Weiwei

I was at the screening of the film about the Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei at the Siskel Film Center in Chicago several nights ago: Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case. Ai Weiwei is a fascinating character, and particularly interesting to me because of my years of involvement with China. But at some point I started to wonder if the situation of Ai Weiwei and other dissidents in China isn't just too remote to be relevant to most Americans.

Strangely, even though the whole story was about Ai Weiwei being detained illegally because of his politics, I didn't make the connection to the work we are doing here in Chicago and elsewhere in the U.S. on exactly the same issues until late in the film when a completed art exhibition was depicted.

S.A.C.R.E.D. - detention by State Security officers

S.A.C.R.E.D. is a work of six life-size dioramas, executed in ceramics and mixed media, depicting Ai Weiwei's detention by State Security officers.

S.A.C.R.E.D. - sleeping

(You can read more about the S.A.C.R.E.D. project in WIRED: "Ai Weiwei’s Shockingly Detailed Remake of His Life in a Chinese Prison" by Kate Stinson)

Somehow it was only when I saw these re-creations of the detention experience that I saw how directly connected the experience of Ai Weiwei is to that of people the U.S. persecutes, and that I work on behalf of week in, week out.  In fact, that's what I had been working on earlier that day:

Chicago, June 26, 2014: On the International Day in Support of Victims and
Survivors of Torture
, protesters call for reparations for victims of Chicago
police torture. The rally was supported by members of the Chicago Coalition
to Shut Down Guantanamo and others. (Photo by Mark Clements)

Seeing the physical body -- and power relations in real space -- brings the reality of this home in a way that can be easy to lose if we are just conceptualizing it or talking about it.

Related posts

It may be difficult to see today that the success of our movement in the future will depend on Chinese activists having the same freedoms that activists in the West enjoy. But, I predict, that is precisely what will make all the difference.

(See What is the US Peace and Justice Movement Doing for Dissidents in China?)

My most prominent memory of my first viewing of the Guantanamo film, The Response, is of one of the stars of the film -- Kate Mulgrew of Star Trek fame -- participating in a panel after the screening. I was blown away when she said, "I did this because our civil liberties in our country have been gravely damaged and we all need to contribute to repairing them."

(See Understanding What Guantanamo Means)

More than any other part of the day, I was moved by the assurance with which Alderman Joe Moore, the resolution's sponsor, stated, "I expect this resolution will pass UNANIMOUSLY."

(See summary of testimony offered in Why Chicago Must Become a Torture-Free Zone )

The term yin quan or "power patronage," comes from the idea of a tree that grows in the shelter of others. Cronyism and power patronage are a constant problem in Chinese politics.

(See I {heart} HK )