This is an activist’s journal | Editorial

The memory of the father rewriting texts from the People’s Daily — a ventricle of Mao Tsetung’s thought — will have influenced Ai Weiwei to accept the invitation to direct this anniversary edition of PÚBLICO. As he confesses in the editorial he wrote, the artist preserved this image of Ai Qing, in his exile with his children in Xinjiang, where he was “condemned” to clean latrines, although he was a renowned poet in China at the time.

In the 1980s, he “deserted”, as he could no longer bear to live in Beijing. Oh Weiwei survived as a street artist in New York; adapted. On a sweltering night, East Villagers reacted with fury to the curfew, and the police couldn’t hold back. In her memories, 1000 Years of Joy and Sadness, says this: “Amidst the chaos, I took lots of pictures — mostly of heads that kept bleeding from the police batons.” One was that of an anarchist with open palms, on which he had written “Koch out” (the mayor of the city).

Intuiting its meaning, the artist called the The New York Times and one of his pictures was among the local news in the newspaper. Although banal, he says, publishing the image allowed him, for the first time, to “establish a relationship with the city”. He had become certain about the “need to maintain rights and freedoms in the face of threats and violence” and had ceased to be “a spectator”.

In this context of war and global tension, of permanent threat to democracy and human rights, we invited the artist, activist and dissenter to help us reflect with readers on what concerns us most. During face-to-face meetings, and many emails exchanged, a concept grew: “Life or Death.” This is what, according to the artist, unites the ten themes and ten phrases, one for each theme, which served as the motto for this issue and the interviews, reports and reflections it contains.

The artist designed, exclusively for PÚBLICO, the Chinese characters that define each theme, wrote a short text for each one, chose the photographs, among images of himself and his works, and decided which would be the first page of the printed edition. He signed the editorial and did an interview himself.

Ai Weiwei always challenged us to make proposals and improve them and always refused, without hesitation, what didn’t interest him: participating in a conference or recording an editorial on video, for example. He discussed with us, almost word for word, the news that he would be the director for one day and called us, on a Saturday morning, to Montemor-o-Novo, where he lives, to clarify his doubts about the first paper page.

Ai Weiwei refused to be a spectator in the planning and assembly of the edition, he guided the process and our work in a methodical and assertive way. After all, he managed the newspaper without ever leaving Alentejo. This is Ai Weiwei’s AUDIENCE.

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