Chinese authorities began demolishing one of Ai Weiwei’s Beijing studios without warning, the dissident artist said on social media this weekend.
Ai, a longtime political critic who now lives in Berlin, said the building had been in use since 2006. In a series of Instagram videos, he appeared to mourn the loss of the space, later telling NPR demolition had begun with “no caution taken.”
“Works were damaged due to the unannounced attack on the studio,” Ai told the outlet. “However, compared to the memories which have been lost, compared to a society which has never established trust in the social order, a trust in the rule of law, or a trust in any kind of unity in defending the rights of its people, what has been lost at my studio is insignificant, and I don’t even care.”
One of the artist’s assistants, Ga Rang, told Agency France-Presse that Ai knew the rental contract on the building had expired last fall, but said they weren’t given any formal notice that demolition was about to begin.
“They came and started knocking down the windows today without telling us beforehand,” Ga told the outlet. “There’s still so much stuff inside.”
Ai is highly regarded within China and helped design the famed Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium for the 2008 Olympics. But his vocal criticism of the Chinese government led to a nearly three-month-long detention in 2011 and he was forced to pay $2.4 million in back taxes and fines for what officials called “tax evasion.”
His passport was confiscated for several years, and he moved to Germany in 2015 after it was returned. He has lived in self-imposed exile since.
Following the destruction, Ai told NPR that he felt the government was attempting to gentrify the neighborhood as an effort “clear out migrant workers.”
“Right now, there is the misconception that it’s simply the demolition of one artist’s studio, which is not true,” he said. “They have been demolishing migrant worker’s homes, often in the middle of the night. They kick them out, destroy their personal belongings, and make them homeless or have them arrested for resisting eviction. This has been going on and on.”