Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei backers project graffiti image onto landmark buildings

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 29 April, 2011, 12:00am


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Hong Kong supporters of artist Ai Weiwei have come up with an ingenious - and legal - way to get their message across; by projecting giant images of the detained mainland activist onto landmark buildings, including police and government buildings.

The images - depicting the sketch of Ai first stencilled on walls in Central, Tsim Sha Tsui and elsewhere two weeks ago by a student identified only as Chin - are popping up as a police serious crime squad tries to track down the artist on criminal damage charges.

An album with 28 black and white pictures was circulating on Facebook yesterday showing images with the words 'Who's afraid of Ai Weiwei?' projected onto buildings in Wan Chai, Admiralty, and Central.

The activists even projected one 10-metre-high image onto Caine House in Arsenal Street, Wan Chai, home to the Hong Kong Island police and next door to police headquarters.

Another was flashed on a roadside wall in Admiralty next to the People's Liberation Army barracks, symbol of mainland authority.

Other targets included City Hall, the Hong Kong Heritage Museum, the site of the former Star Ferry Pier, an MTR platform, a police vehicle and even the ceilings of double decker buses.

One striking image showed the sketch projected onto the wall of an MTR building, with the towering IFC Two skyscraper in the background.

Chin, still wanting to use only her nickname, said yesterday she was not involved in the projections but was happy to see more artists using different means to express their views.

'I am expecting more non-traditional art performance in support of Ai to be found in the city,' she said, suggesting an image could also be projected on the wall of the central government's liaison office to express artists' concerns to Beijing.

Artist-activist Ai has been detained by mainland police since April 3 when he was stopped while boarding a flight to Hong Kong. Said to be facing investigation for economic crimes, he has not been seen since.

Supporters have criticised the police for involving the West Kowloon Regional Crime Unit, usually associated with serious crimes like murder and rape, in the investigation of pro-Ai graffiti.

Some reports said the police had received as many as 30 complaints of criminal damage.

But lawmaker and former Bar Association chairman Ronny Tong Ka-wah said yesterday he could see no way that projecting messages on buildings could be a criminal offence. 'The Basic Law in Hong Kong protects freedom of expression,' he said.

An MTR by-law bans the unauthorised display of advertising materials, but Tong said the Ai projection was not a commercial advertisement.

Greenpeace has used similar tactics in the past, including projecting a message onto Government House in March 2009 calling on the government to play a bigger part in the Copenhagen climate change talks.

Secretary for Security Ambrose Lee Siu-kwong yesterday said police had a duty to investigate the graffiti as they had received more than five complaints from property owners.

'[The investigation] has nothing to do with the suppression of freedom of expression,' Lee said.

The government respected the decision of the police commissioner on the allocation of manpower in the graffiti investigation. He did not comment on the projections.

Political scientist Ma Ngok of Chinese University said Lee had not explained why a serious crime unit had been used.

'The government has lost its credibility on this incident,' Ma said, adding that he expected to see more pictures of Ai if the government continued to take such a 'high-profile suppression' approach.