16 May 2011

Ai Weiwei allowed visit from wife

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei appeared healthy but tense during his first meeting with his family since he was arrested more than a month ago, his wife says.

Detained Chinese artist Ai Weiwei allowed wife visit (Getty)

World-renowned artist Ai Weiwei went missing after being detained by police in Beijing airport, in China, on 3 April.

Since then he has not been heard from or seen, and has had no contact with his family despite not being charged with any crimes, causing outrage in the art world.

However he was finally allowed a brief visit from his wife, Lu Qing, on Sunday. She told Associated Press that he seemed healthy but was clearly unable to express himself freely in her 20-minute visit, at an unknown location.

He seemed conflicted, contained, his face was tense. Ai Weiwei’s wife, Lu Qing

“I could see redness in his eyes. It was obvious that without freedom to express himself he was not behaving naturally even with me, someone from his family,” she said.

She said two other people were present during the meeting, including one person who “seemed to be in charge of Ai”, and another who took notes. She said he was not handcuffed and in his own clothes, and seemed healthy.

The 53-year old artist suffers from high blood pressure and diabetes, but his wife said he told her he is taking long walks every day, getting his blood pressure checked and eating and sleeping well in detention.

But she added: “He seemed conflicted, contained, his face was tense.”

What's Ai Weiwei done to scare China, asks Channel 4 News Presenter Jon Snow

Human rights

The Chinese Foreign Ministry says Ai Weiwei is being investigated for suspected economic crimes, but his detention comes amid a crackdown on dissent across China.

The detail of his case remains unclear – although in China suspects can be under surveillance for up to six months before the authorities decide how to proceed with a case. However, this is usually conducted in the suspect’s home.

Officials in the US and EU say his case is a sign of deteriorating human rights in China and have called for his release. Sculptor Antony Gormley told Channel 4 News the continued detention of Ai Weiwei was a “disaster” for the art world.

Ai Weiwei is world famous for his irreverent, often rebellious, art works, including a photo series showing him giving the middle finger to landmarks such as Tiananmen Square in Beijing and the White House in Washington.

He is one of the designers of the Bird’s Nest stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and recently held a show in London’s Tate Modern. Two other shows of his have also recently opened in London – Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads at Somerset House and a show at the Lisson Gallery.