A file photograph showing Ai Weiwei holding up a handful of his porcelain sunflower seeds at the unveiling of his exhibit 'Sunflower Seeds at the Tate Modern in London, Britain, October 11, 2010.
DHARAMSHALA, August 17: China’s best known artist and a fierce critic of the authoritarian government in Beijing, Ai Wei Wei has said that he would “feel ashamed” to visit Lhasa, Tibet’s capital, following the ongoing wave of self-immolations by Tibetans.
In an interview
with Foreign Policy, Ai remarked that the Tibetan people are burning themselves to death and nobody was taking notice.
“Already over 40 of them (Tibetans) in the past two years (have self-immolated), and nobody's talking about it,” Ai said.
The 54-year-old, who was last year hailed by ArtReview as the world’s most powerful artist, said that he would feel ashamed to visit Lhasa in response to a query on whether he has visited Tibet’s ancient capital city on earlier occasions.
“No. I would feel ashamed to go,” Ai said. “I think to respect [the Tibetans] is not to touch them, to leave them alone.”
The artist gained international prominence in 2008 as one of the designers of the Birds Nest stadium for the Beijing Summer Olympics, but later refused to attend the opening of the games, declaring them "a tool for propaganda."
Following the massive pan-Tibet uprisings in 2008 against Chinese rule, Ai had told reporters that simply blaming the Tibetans for the protests would deepen “hatred” among the Han and the Tibetan people.
“The Tibetan are now simplistically being blamed and scolded for infringing the law,” Ai had said. “I do not think this can solve the problem, because this will only deepen the hatred amongst the Han people and the ethnic minorities, thus further deepen their gap.”
He proposed that the Han people must stop looking upon the minorities as the slaves whom they freed and admit to mistakes committed by them in the past.
“They (Tibetans) have their own religion, their own cultural heritage and their own way of thinking. We have never fully understood their religion and their lifestyle,” the artist had said. “Historically, we destroyed their temples and statues, this is a basic fact.”
“These problems should be solved. If not, then this would be failure of policy. Must seek dialogue. It is not feasible to simply accuse them of just being separatists.”
In April 2011, Chinese police imprisoned Ai on politically motivated charges of tax evasion; when he was finally released after 81 days in custody, he was forbidden from leaving Beijing for a year. (He has since been given permission to travel domestically.)
The artist has continued to speak out against Chinese government censorship and repression, often through social media and through his art.