Hanging Man: The Arrest of Ai Weiwei

Barnaby Martin, Author
Barnaby Martin. Faber and Faber, $28 (256p) ISBN 978-0-37416775-2
Ebook - 256 pages - 978-0-374-70843-6
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Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei, the co-designer of the Beijing Olympics’ celebrated Bird’s Nest stadium whose international reputation blossomed with the Tate Modern’s 2010 showing of the installation Sunflower Seeds, granted British journalist Martin (already an acquaintance of Ai’s) an extensive multipart interview in the immediate aftermath of his 81-day detention by the Chinese government in April 2011. A still-dazed, but nevertheless expressive Ai, who remains under house arrest, describes the harrowing, absurd nature of his detention and interrogation by police and military personnel. The brutality of state power was nothing new to the artist; he grew up during the Cultural Revolution as the son of a famous poet and onetime friend of Mao, Ai Qing, who had fallen out of favor with the regime. Ai’s account of his encounters with the Chinese police state comes in the same year as the memoir by poet Liao Yiwu (For a Song and a Hundred Songs)—whom Martin interviewed only a short while before Liao left China for exile in Germany. To the credit of this engaging and timely book, Martin takes care to establish the historical, political, and artistic context of Ai’s work. Martin’s discussion of the current mindset and political health of the Chinese Communist Party is inevitably partial, but the book serves as an excellent introduction to Ai and the power of contemporary Chinese art. 16 pages of full-color illus. Agent: Peter Bernstein, Bernstein Literary Agency. (Sept.)
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