Dissident Artist Ai Weiwei on New Chinese Leadership and Censorship

BY TVictoria Fleischer  December 11, 2012 at 12:49 PM EST

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei spoke from his home in Beijing about his travel ban, China’s leadership changes and censorship and social media.

Ai Weiwei, arguably one of the most well-known artists and dissidents in the world, told the PBS NewsHour that he will “never be optimistic” about the new Chinese leadership announced in November.

In an interview with a Beijing based producer working with the NewsHour, the world famous artist also discussed the travel restrictions the Chinese government has imposed on him and the tense relationship he has with his country’s government.

“I try to be very courteous to the authorities because I’m just too fragile and too … kind of powerless,” said Ai. “I made a lot of effort, but every time I got hurt. And I think that does have an effect but the result is quite also very clear. The authorities can be above the law, can clearly tell you every time you make a move, ‘The only one who will be hurt is you.’”

In 2009, Ai was arrested while supporting the trial of a fellow human rights activist in China. During the arrest, he photographed himself in an elevator surrounded by policemen and posted the photo on Twitter. In 2011, his actions landed him in detention for 81 days, where he was beaten. Since 2009, the artist and activist has battled with the Chinese authorities through house arrest, subsequent detentions, tax issues and more.

Ai is having his first ever American show at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C. He is renowned as the co-designer of the 2008 Beijing Olympics “Bird’s Nest” stadium and for his art mixing Chinese history with modern and western influences, all of which are on display at “According to What?”

For more on the exhibit, which will be on display at the Hirshhorn until Feb. 24, 2013, Jeffrey Brown spoke with the chief curator Kerry Brougher. Watch their conversation on Art Beat.

Watch Tuesday’s NewsHour for more on the famed artist and his first U.S. show.