He is no musician, but the Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei (艾未未) is resorting to music to convey his criticism and mockery of China’s authoritarian state.
On the second anniversary of his 81-day secret detention, Ai is releasing his first music album, The Divine Comedy, which includes the single Dumbass.
The song is meant to reconstruct his detention, which was part of an overall crackdown on dissent in 2011. Ai’s subsequent conviction for tax evasion has been seen by his supporters as punishment for his activism.
The full album — released yesterday — has five other songs, in which Ai documents his experiences with police and shares his reflection on China’s current conditions.
Rock musician Zuoxiao Zuzhou (左小祖咒), a friend of Ai, wrote the music for the album, with influences from pop, rock, punk and heavy metal. Ai’s vocals appear to be more speechmaking than singing and the lyrics include obscenities to express his anger at what he sees as a repressive police state.
“I had been thinking about how to recover from the trauma. And I came up with the idea of using music to convey a sentiment that is tremendously secret, and private, to the public,” Ai said last month when Dumbass was released as a single.
A sculptor, designer and documentary maker, Ai has irked Beijing by using his art and online profile to draw attention to injustices in China and the need for greater transparency and rule of law.
After his release in June 2011, Ai’s design firm was slapped with a US$2.4 million tax bill, which he fought unsuccessfully in the Chinese courts.