NEW YORK—The unannounced demolition of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s studio in Beijing is symptomatic of a larger attack on human rights and artistic expression in China, said PEN America today.

On August 6, Artist and activist Ai Weiwei announced on social media that authorities had demolished his Beijing artist studio. Ai stated that he had received no advance notice prior to the demolition. Although several of his works were damaged in the studio’s demolition, the artist explained that he is more preoccupied with the effects of China’s “urban development” projects on artists and migrant populations, saying: “Since last year, a policy was enacted to clear out migrant workers from Beijing . . . Those who do not belong to the establishment, including artists, are always the first to be discriminated against and sacrificed.”

Within the past few years, artist colonies including Songzhuang and Caochangdi—the latter an arts district that Ai helped develop—have been targeted for eviction and demolition. Artists have cited both runaway economic development and political disfavor as rationales for authorities’ hostile attitudes. More broadly, an urban development policy conceived last year to push migrant workers out of Beijing has empowered local authorities to take unannounced action to demolish property, a policy that has led to thousands of migrant workers losing their homes.

“Regardless of the government’s motives, the unannounced demolition of an artist’s studio is a demonstration of a lack of appreciation or even acknowledgment for the role of the artist in society,” said Julie Trébault, Director of PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection. “Around the world, artist studios and communes are spaces to be cherished, not discarded.”

PEN America leads the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), a program dedicated to assisting imperiled artists and strengthening the network of organizations that support them. If you or someone you know is an artist at risk, contact ARC here.

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. pen.org

CONTACT: 

Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Manager: agasparian@pen.org