|The 12 animal zodiac heads re-interpreted by Ai Weiwei|
In New York on Wednesday Mayor Michael Bloomberg officially unveiled "Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads", a series of bronze heads of animals in the Chinese zodiac that are reminiscent of the ones in the old Summer Palace before it was plundered by Western forces in 1860.
Ai Weiwei was supposed to be at the opening, but is still detained somewhere in China since April 3. And so the ceremony turned into a public call for China to release the artist cum human rights activist.
Bloomberg called Ai's detention "very disturbing".
"This is a message from America to the whole world that we are the place where people can come and express themselves," he said. "China would be well served to listen to our message and to copy us."
The mayor continued, saying "freedom is our competitive advantage" and called free expression "the most valuable of all New York City's riches".
"The more a city embraces diversity and tolerates dissent, the strong it becomes," Bloomberg added. "And there is no place on earth that gives freer rein to more voices and viewpoints than New York City."
During the ceremony dozens of artists and cultural leaders including artist and director Julian Schnabel took turns reading Ai's writings and interviews.
It's quite appropriate for Ai's exhibition to start in New York, where he lived from 1983 to 1993 and studied at Parsons, the New School for Design. The show continues on to Houston, Los Angeles, Pittsburg and Washington.
While the Chinese consulate in New York made no comment about the event, one wonders how or if Bloomberg the news outlet will be impacted by Beijing after its owner publicly called for Ai's release.
Bloomberg the mayor didn't seem to worry about repercussions if any. "If you start setting your beliefs on what's important to your pocket, you're not going to be a very happy person, nor is society going to benefit," he said.
Perhaps the Chinese government should heed Bloomberg's warning -- with the widening gap between the rich and the poor there aren't many happy people there...