Ai Weiwei to curate upcoming Royal Academy exhibition after China returns his passport

The decision was made after the Chinese government unexpectedly returned his passport

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The Independent Culture

Dissident artist Ai Weiwei will travel to Britain to personally curate his upcoming Royal Academy exhibition later this year – after the Chinese government unexpectedly returned his passport.

Four years after he was banned from going overseas by a regime suspicious of his politics, the 57-year-old was invited to collect his travel documents from Beijing’s “Exit and Entry Bureau”.

The globally acclaimed artist announced the news in a very modern fashion – publishing a picture of himself on Instagram with the caption: “Today, I got my passport.”

Speaking afterwards, Ai said the Chinese authorities had not warned him of any restrictions or conditions on his future travel plans – allowing him to fly to the West.

“I’m not surprised because in reality, they’ve said they would return me my passport for many years,” he told Reuters. “They’ve never said they would never give it to me, except that it has dragged on for four years.”

Tim Marlow, director of artistic programmes at the Royal Academy of Arts, who is co-curating a major show of Ai’s work opening in September, said: “Having spent time with him it’s brilliant to know he has finally got it back. It brings to an end this ordeal for him. The dignity with which Ai has gone about this has been incredible. He wants to get on with making and exhibiting art.”

The RA show is Ai’s first major institutional exhibition in the UK. He will now personally oversee the installation of his works. But his visit trip out of China will be to visit his six-year-old son  in Berlin, Germany.

 

Mr Marlow said: “It’s great news for the RA. There’s something fitting that the first big show he will oversee and visit is one in an institution run by and founded by artists and architects, there’s something nice about that.”

Sir Nicholas Serota, director of Tate said: “We are all delighted that Ai will be able to travel again and we hope to see him in the UK soon.”

Alongside co-curator Adrian Locke, Mr Marlow had so far put the show together with trips to Beijing and frequent conversations with the artist on Skype and email.

The last time Ai was in London was to oversee the installation of his room full of 100 million porcelain sunflower seeds, the work that really made his name in the UK, at Tate Modern in 2010. It was one of his last trips abroad before his passport was confiscated.

Ai’s work has long tackled political themes, and his unrelenting criticism of the authorities is believed to have contributed to his arrest in 2011 over a contested tax bill.

He was held largely in solitary confinement and the conditions were “extremely tough” one source said shortly after his release, revealing he was repeatedly interrogated and subjected to psychological torture. It led to condemnation of the Chinese government from around the world.

After 81 days, Ai was released but his passport was kept and he remains under government surveillance with more than 20 security cameras trained on his studio. Since 2013, to mark each day without his passport, he placed fresh flowers in the basket of his bicycle outside his Beijing studio.

The Chinese authorities allowed Ai to stage four shows in China this year, and Mr Marlow said that suggested there was a change of attitude by the state.