by David Hershkovits


The issue of free expression in China is coming to Brooklyn, riding the wave of the world’s most famous dissident artist, Ai Weiwei. While the Brooklyn Museum gears up for an exhibition of his work on April 18th, PEN American Center is organizing a literary protest for free expression in China at the Brooklyn Public Library at Grand Army Plaza on Thursday, Feb. 10 at 7 pm.

A renowned artist whose life and work has been the subject of museum and gallery shows, movies, books, hundreds if not thousands of articles all proclaiming his brilliance and resilience, Ai Weiwei appears as one man against the indomitable will of the Chinese government, speaking truth to power in the face of censorship and incarceration. In a world in need of heroes, he stands out.

Yet to his credit and our eternal gratitude, he has been able to create a beautiful body of work, poetic enough to confound his uniformed scrutinizers who go in search for any excuse to lock him up and throw away the key. Ai Weiwei cannot attend the retrospective of his work at the Brooklyn Museum because his passport is arbitrarily held by the Chinese government.

But he is only the tip of China’s iceberg of artistic persecution. PEN’s protest rally brings our attention to others singled out by Beijing, including peaceful Uyghur rights advocate and economist IlhamTohti, the recipient of the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award; Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo, who is serving an 11-year prison term; and Xiaobo’s wife, Liu Xia, an artist and poet who has been held under extralegal house arrest since her husband’s receipt of the prize. An outdoor projection of a never-before-seen video message from Ai Weiwei, accompanied by a lighted message to the Chinese government presented by the New York City Light Brigade, will be a highlight of the rally, which will also include readings of works by Chinese writers by Sergio De La Pava, Jennifer Egan, Chang-Rae Lee, Victoria Redel, Jacob Weisberg, and Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry filmmaker Alison Klayman.

In the video Ai Weiwei tells every individual to “question authority and become creative,” calling Freedom of Expression “an essential value for artists to protect and fight for. It will never come as a gift but through our art works, our voice, our lives, our music and poetry… Only by doing this can we have a better society not only in China but elsewhere in the world.”

This event will be live-streamed at Follow PEN’s campaign for free expression in China on Twitter with #WithFlowers.You can visit the Facebook page HERE.

And, just in time for Passover, enjoy this exclusive photo of the artist getting into the holiday spirit with some matzoh.

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 1.11.05 PM.pngChag sameach, Ai Weiwei!