Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei says his work has been pulled from the upcoming biennale in Yinchuan, China, due to his “political sensitivity.”

Ai said on Instagram that he received a “vague” letter from Hsieh Suchen, art director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Yinchuan, China. The letter stated that his participation in the upcoming Yinchuan Biennale is now cancelled. The decision was made by higher officials due to his “political sensitivity,” Ai said.

Scheduled to run from September 9 to December 18, the Yinchuan Biennale is the first biennale in the north west of China and the second in China. As the museum’s first Biennale, the exhibition represents Yinchuan’s entrance into the international art scene.

ai weiwei yinchuan biennale
Photos: Instagram, Weibo.

Ai later posted a longer statement, saying: “Censorships in communist regions have been present since the existence of the power. Yet it still comes as a surprise to me for an ‘international art biennale’, with over a hundred international artists and a foreign curator participating, to remove a single artist for the reason of defending human rights and freedom of speech. This shows what we face is a world which is divided and segregated by ideology, and art is used merely as a decoration for political agendas in certain societies.”

“China is trying to develop into a modern society without freedom of speech, but without political arguments involving higher aesthetic morals and philosophies, art is only served as a puppet of fake cultural efforts. Therefore I am happy not to be a part of that effort as a political decoration. I believe the real effort we should make, is in defending freedom of speech for our humanism. Only by doing so, art is worth making,” he wrote.

The exhibition has implications for China’s international strategy, Ai said in his post. In a previous announcement, Hsieh said: “With this international biennale, we are going to set up the first professional culture promotion base among the cities on China’s One Belt, One Road strategy list.”

One Belt, One Road is a major development strategy which aims to connect China with the rest of Asia, Africa and Europe via land and sea routes. Yinchuan, as the capital of the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, is a key point connecting China with the Middle East, in particular with Islamic countries. The region is home to the Hui minority, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group in China, and Yinchuan’s RMB 300 million museum is the country’s first museum to focus on Sino-Islamic art.

yinchuan moca
Yinchuan MOCA. Photo: Instagram/Aiww.

Ai Weiwei was on the first list of 40 participating artists in the Yinchuan Biennale released earlier this year.

MOCA Yinchuan did not respond to HKFP’s requests for comment.

catherine lai

Catherine Lai

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.