“China is not confronted with the corona virus for the first time,” said Ai Weiwei in the written interview. The artist currently resides in Portugal with his Chinese wife and child. Nevertheless, the country has reacted in the last three years with the strictest restrictions on human behavior.

“This is unprecedented in the history of China and of all of humanity.” China is thus restricting human rights and personal autonomy.

The protests in many Chinese cities, directed against the strict lockdowns, are “resistance gatherings”. Protest slogans were chanted. “People want to be released from prison,” says Ai Weiwei, “they want their normal lives back.”

The artist does not believe that the protests will be successful: “Protest can hardly be successful in China because the party sees itself as representing the interests of the people,” says Ai Weiwei, “so for them it is something like protests by the people against she doesn’t exist.”

Moreover, the protesters have so far had no leaders. There are no organizations behind the demonstrations, there is no agenda. “It’s like a plate of loose sand, as we say in a Chinese idiom.”

The protests found their most important ideological expression in the white sheet of paper that protesters held up. “It’s a powerful symbol,” says Ai Weiwei, “because it’s an appeal to raise your voice and be able to express yourself freely.”

According to the Berlin art historian and media expert Michael Diers, the white, blank paper is a “relatively new invention” and at the same time an “admirably courageous and imaginative” means of protest. With “Schlagbilder. On the Political Iconography of the Present” (1997) published a standard work on the language of images.

In an interview with Deutsche Welle, Diers referred to an opponent of the war who was photographed in March of this year in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, with a blank white piece of paper and then taken away by police officers.

“A symbol like the blank white paper is created when all other protest attempts have failed,” says Diers. The action is always aimed at the cameras, the addressee is always the world public. “It’s about the power of images.”

According to Ai Weiwei, the blank sheet of paper stands for silence and resistance to restrictions on freedom of expression. The absence of representatives from culture alongside the Chinese protesters does not surprise him: “Normally, artists and writers are all supporters of liberalism.” They are “by default” on the side of the demonstrators.

“But since the regime in China silences freedom of expression, it doesn’t matter who stands next to the demonstrators,” says Ai Weiwei, “they can’t be seen.”

Author: Stefan Dege

The original of this post “Ai Weiwei: “People want their life back”” comes from Deutsche Welle.