Wen Jiabao

Ai's arrest focuses art fans on rights

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 June, 2011, 12:00am

While Premier Wen Jiabao has been pledging to help European economies ride out their debt crisis and calling for stronger trade ties, some visitors to the Somerset House arts hub in London on the weekend said their governments should keep up demands for improvement in China's human rights record.

Visitors to the cultural centre on Sunday were able to catch the last session of an exhibition of 12 bronze animal heads sculpted by outspoken artist Ai Weiwei. They said their impression of China had been affected by his detention and the timing of his release.

Some said that although China was economically strong and could offer financial aid to other nations, its treatment of activists did not match its image as an economic giant.

'It is ironic for someone who speaks his own mind to be jailed just for speaking his mind,' American photographer Kelvin Jones said.

'I would expect a strong China to be able to accept other people's views, but what happened to Ai contradicts that.'

Jones said Ai's release just days before Wen started his European tour was not a coincidence, and that it was politically motivated.

'There is nothing coincidental in the authoritarian world,' he said.

Shelly Taylor, a British art student, said she was interested not only in Ai's work, but also his relationship with the Chinese government, his involvement in the designing of the Beijing's 'Bird's Nest' National Stadium, and the way he was picked up by police at Beijing airport.

She said she believed Ai would continue with his art work, but would do it differently. 'I believe his work will be his reaction to what he has experienced. But he might not be as bold as he was,' she said.