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Large crowds gather in support of PEN Rally and Ai Weiwei-freedom of expression in Brooklyn
Supporters at the PEN rally for Ai Weiwei on the steps of the Brooklyn Museum, April 10, 2014.

BROOKLYN, NY.- Last night a crowd of several hundred supporters of Ai Weiwei and other Chinese dissidents gathered on the steps of the Brooklyn Public Library in Brooklyn, NY. They convened as part of a peaceful protest organized by PEN America to bring awareness to Ai Weiwei’s situation and other persecuted Chinese writers who remain at the mercy of the Chinese authorities. Ai Weiwei remains under house arrest in Beijing since the police seized his passport after his 81-day incarceration in spring 2011.

In the weeks before the Brooklyn protest, celebrities and renowned international artists lent their names in support of PEN’s effort. They included: Robert De Niro, Julian Lennon, Pussy Riot, Susan Sarandon, Jasper Johns, Marina Abramovich, Chuck Close, Julian Schnabel, Shirin Neshat, Anish Kapoor, Maurizio Cattelan, and Aggie Gund.

Additional support came in the form of a limited edition print series by contemporary American artist Shepard Fairey, who created a portrait of Ai Weiwei in his signature “Obey Giant” style, which is available on the artist’s website.

The crowd displayed the Fairey portrait and other posters of Ai Weiwei, Liu Xiaobo, Liu Xia, and Ilham Tohti. Reporters and video crews documented opening remarks by PEN America staff as well as readings of excerpts by persecuted intellectuals. Afterward, hundreds proceeded from the steps of the Library to the Brooklyn Museum of Art, host of a retrospective Ai Weiwei exhibition – Ai Weiwei According to What? – opening Friday, April 18, 2014. Fans of Ai Weiwei distributed plastic handcuffs in a symbolic act of solidarity with the artist, who recently created a “Handcuffs” work of art in jade.

The rally gained momentum at the Brooklyn Museum and a large gathering gathered on the entrance steps. One group held up large placards spelling out “Free Expression” with little white lights set against a black background, creating a powerful visual as the sun set. The crowd posed for a group portrait before turning their attention to the far-right façade of the Museum where NYC Light Brigade projected a never-before-seen video message by Ai Weiwei, who started his short speech by thanking the crowd for their attendance and for their support of free expression.

“As an artist, I think freedom of expression is an essential foundation for any kind of activity,” said Ai, his larger-than-life image hovering on the Brooklyn Museum wall. “Freedom of expression is to encourage every individual to question authority, and to become creative, so these are essential values for artists to protect and to fight for.” The artist ended his video message with a strong statement: “We have to encourage individuals to become a part of the society through free expression … to bare responsibility and to contribute our ideas, our thinking about what kind of society we live in, and what kind of future we will have.”

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