Ai Weiwei is documenting the Hong Kong protests.

Kelsey Ables
Aug 9, 2019 4:52PM, via The Art Newspaper

Ai Weiwei. Photo by Don Arnold/WireImage.

Ai Weiwei has dispatched a video team to the front lines of the ongoing Hong Kong protests, he told the BBC on Friday. The Chinese dissident artist’s team has been documenting the demonstrations since they began in June, when over a million people took to Hong Kong’s streets in response to a proposed extradition bill that would allow arrested individuals to be sent to China for trial. (Hong Kong is a special administrative region that has operated independently since it was handed over to China from the British in 1997.) According to Ai, the team will use their recordings to produce art, a documentary, or a series of interviews.

Ai is among several artists involved in the protests. One of whom, in July, told Artsy: “I am more afraid of the extradition law than ruining my career by speaking out.” In June, several art spaces in Hong Kong closed for a day in solidarity with the protestors. The Hong Kong Pavilion at the Venice Biennale also shuttered in response to the turmoil.

On Friday, demonstrators gathered at Hong Kong’s international airport for a three-day occupation. As of yet, China has not deployed troops to squash the protests, but Hong Kong police have used increasingly tough measures to quell what began as peaceful demonstrations. Last week, protestors dodged tear gas from riot police. On August 6th, a spokesman for China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office warned: “those who play with fire will perish by it.”

Ai expressed fears that, emboldened by the West’s apathy, the Chinese government may infringe further on Hong Kong’s freedom, putting protestors in danger. “We should not forget 1989, when [China] used tanks to crush a very peaceful demonstration in Tiananmen Square and killed hundreds of people,” he said. “They know the West will not interfere.”

Ai has garnered an international reputation as a provocateur, often drawing the ire of Beijing. He blurs the lines between documentarian, artist, and social activist with projects like a list of 5,000 schoolchildren who died in an earthquake due to construction industry corruption and a documentary about the plight of migrants. In 2011, he was detained by Chinese police for 81 days and subsequently spent years unable to leave China.

Further Reading: What’s at Stake for Hong Kong’s Art Scene in the Extradition Law Protests

Kelsey Ables