Ai Weiweis first London exhibition coincided with the beginning of the artist’s detention by Chinese authorities in April 2011. The gallery supported the ‘Free Ai Weiwei’ campaign through posters featuring Ai and examples of his writing: “Words can be deleted, but the facts won’t be deleted with them.” Ai spent three months detained by the Chinese government and spent a further five years under house arrest.


This is an account of the events of 2011: "On 3 April, 2011, Ai Weiwei was taken by police as he went through customs at the Beijing Capital Airport. His family did not receive any notice from relevant departments, nor had any idea where he was held or what crime he had committed. After 81 days of secret detention, Ai Weiwei was released “on bail, pending trial” at midnight on 22 June, 2011.

In Ai’s memory, police officers put a black hood over his head at the airport and led him to a car on 3 April, 2011. He was then held in a military police base in the suburbs of Beijing. The cell was 7.2 by 3.6 metres, and all objects inside were wrapped in white foam. The windows were blocked and the lights were on 24 hours a day. There were three cameras in the cell. Two were placed diagonally in the main space, and a third one in the bathroom. The speech and movements of everyone inside were under strict surveillance. Two military police officers were closely on guard 24 hours a day, and they changed shifts every three hours. Ai had to consult the officers prior to making every move. During the detention, the Beijing police interrogated him 51 times; the main accusation was “inciting subversion of state power”. By the time Ai was released, he lost 13 kilogrammes in weight. He was asked not to disclose any information about the period he was held. After Ai’s disappearance, his assistant Wentao, business partner Liu Zhenggang, accountant Hu Mingfen, and driver Zhang Jinsong disappeared one after another. They were in police custody for over two months before they were released."