Minneapolis, June 24, 2011— A special event at the Walker Art Center on July 12 will invite the public to support the rights of artists worldwide and honor those whose freedom of expression is restricted. Anyone wishing to participate may drop off a chair of any type on the Walker’s Open Field. The goal is to amass 1001 chairs by 6 p.m. that day. The event is inspired by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s 2007 project Fairytale: 1001 Qing Dynasty Wooden Chairs, an installation made up of 1001 Qing Dynasty wooden chairs and first presented at Documenta 12 in Kassel, Germany.
Ai was detained April 3 by Chinese police at the Beijing airport while en route to Hong Kong. Though Chinese authorities have alleged that Ai is guilty of tax evasion, his family and many in the international community fear the arrest was the government’s response to his politically-charged art work and social activism. In particular, Ai has criticized the government for its response to the deaths of the thousands of school children during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake as well as its treatment of Chinese dissidents.
The Walker had originally planned to stage the event to mark what would have been Ai’s 100th day of detention. Though the artist was released on June 22, the Walker plans to proceed with the event to acknowledge Ai and other artists in China and around the world who work under oppressive conditions where artistic freedom is compromised.
The Walker has connections to several such artists. For example, the Israeli actor and filmmaker Juliano Mer-Khamis was murdered in the West Bank April 4, ostensibly because of his artistic and political views. Mer-Khamis has appeared in some 20 films, including director Julian Schnabel’s recent Miral, which screened at the Walker March 18. Award-winning filmmaker Jafar Panahi, whose film White Balloon had its area premiere at the Walker in 1996, was jailed in Iran in February 2010 because of anti-government themes in his films and remains under house arrest.
“We believe that no artistic voice should ever be silenced in any society,” said Walker executive director Olga Viso. “We envision the chairs on the Open Field as a reminder of artists across the world—artists we may not even know—who have been lost and who face repression and censorship every day. Weiwei’s art and his recent detainment have brought this reality into disturbing and important focus.”
The conditions of Ai’s release forbid him to speak to the media.
Visitors can drop off chairs throughout the day on July 12 and can witness the culmination of the event at 6 p.m., when Viso will make brief remarks. Visitors can collect their chairs between 6:15 p.m. and 8 p.m., and unclaimed chairs will be donated to charity. The Walker will offer free gallery admission for the entire day, and galleries will remain open until 6 p.m., an hour past their usual closing time.