Dissidents raise the finger with a grin at the Ecuadorian embassy, London
Ai Weiwei and Julian Assange have made what seem to be gestures of contempt for their critics in a selfie posted to an Instagram account.
Ai Weiwei review – momentous and moving
If there were any who doubted Ai Weiwei’s work matched his reputation, this rollercoaster of a show – racing between his time in jail, the Sichuan earthquake and 3,000 crabs – should silence them
The picture, which was uploaded to Ai’s Instagram account on Wednesday and is understood to have been taken inside the Ecuadorian embassy in west London, shows both men grinning impishly at the camera, left hands raised with their middle fingers extended.
Assange, head of the WikiLeaks whistleblowing website, has had refuge at the embassy since 2012, because of the threat of being extradited to Sweden where he faces an arrest warrant relating to allegations of rape and sexual assault.
Assange also fears the possibility of onward extradition to the US, where authorities are believed to be building an espionage case against him for publishing secrets about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for obtaining US diplomatic cables, which embroiled the country in huge international scandals. He could not be reached for comment on Thursday. And a spokesperson for WikiLeaks could not say what he and Ai spoke about at the embassy.
The artist and dissident Ai was detained without charge in China for 81 days in 2011, during a crackdown there on political activists. The government also confiscated his passport, returning it in July, after which he travelled to German, and Britain, despite UK border authorities initially refusing him a visa.
The supposedly most egregious crime of Ai, a persistent critic of China’s regime, was to have created an artwork composed of 9,000 children’s backpacks, as a commentary on the multiple school building collapses during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, which killed thousands of pupils.
Ai also published the names of 5,000 of the dead schoolchildren, prompting authorities to shut down his blog, demolish his studio, investigate him on charges of pornography, bigamy, tax avoidance and foreign currency irregularities, and beat him until he suffered brain injury.
At the Royal Academy, in London, Ai currently has a retrospective, opening to the public on Saturday, featuring artworks dating to 1993, the year he returned to Beijing after living in the US for 12 years.