Chinese Authorities Return Passport to Ai Weiwei after 4 Years

The artist and dissident chose Instagram to announce the good news.

Ai Weiwei announced the return of his passport to his 111,000 Instagram followers. Photo: Ai Weiwei (@aiww) via Instagram

On Wednesday morning, Chinese artist and prominent dissident Ai Weiwei announced via an Instagram post that Chinese authorities have returned his passport. “Today I got my passport” his Instagram caption read.

“Ai Weiwei and his many supporters around the world are thrilled at the news that his passport has been returned after 600 days,” Ossian Ward from Lisson Gallery, which represents Ai Weiwei, told artnet News in an email. “Having been denied foreign travel since his 81-day detention in 2011, Weiwei now has the possibility to visit his son and his studio in Berlin as well as some of his many forthcoming museum exhibitions around the world, including major shows this autumn in London, Paris, Helsinki and Melbourne. However, he intends to remain based in Beijing, his home,” Ward added.

Ai’s passport was revoked four years ago, after he was apprehended by police at Beijing’s International Airport and accused, according to CNN, of tax evasion.

At the time the arrest was widely interpreted as an attempt to silence the outspoken artist. Ai has been openly critical of the Chinese government’s position on human rights, democracy, and free speech, both through his art and personal statements.

Due to the confiscation of his passport—which occurred without trial, charge, or official explanation—the artist has been unable to leave the country since 2011, preventing him from attending many gallery and museum exhibition openings of his own work.

Despite the obstacles, Ai has continued to create art from his Beijing studio and has successfully exhibited his work internationally, using his incarceration as inspiration for his art. At the 2013 Venice Biennale, Ai recreated scenes from his imprisonment in a large installation, entitled S.A.C.R.E.D.

Ai Weiwei S.A.C.R.E.D. (2011-2013), at the 2013 Venice Biennale. Photo: Design Boom

Ai Weiwei, S.A.C.R.E.D. (2011-2013), at the 2013 Venice Biennale.
Photo: Design Boom

In recent months, relations between the artist and the Chinese authorities have tentatively warmed. Two months ago, Ai opened his first solo exhibition in China since 2011. At the time, Ai told the New York Times that it felt “different” to be in attendance at his own opening.

On September 19, London’s Royal Academy of Arts will open the first major institutional exhibition in the UK devoted to Ai’s work. It’s been rumored since last year that Ai could attend the opening of this important survey in the British capital. Now that he has his passport back, the rumor might finally become a reality.

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