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Blind human rights lawyer Chen Guangcheng and his family are illegally detained and tortured for years in rural China – no visitors or witnesses allowed. Art star Ai Wei Wei is arrested on vague changes, his studio closed and staff threatened. Religious leaders, political protestors and human rights activists are arrested, harassed and worse. Chinese border guards border shoot, imprison or enslave starving escapees from North Korea. Even American movie stars are roughed up for asking the wrong questions.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, Washington and the global markets continue to play dead for Chinese cash, but some human rights groups, churches, politicians and artists are cranking up the heat and making lots of noise about the abuse. Is anyone listening?
“Crazy Crab” hopes so.
Crazy Crab is a mysterious art persona who began a creative art/protest campaign over the continuing imprisonment and torture of Chen Guangcheng and his family. Keeping the theme of Chen’s iconic sunglasses, he requests that supporters take photos of themselves in dark glasses as gestures of solidarity with the blind lawyer and other political prisoners in China. He is currently manipulating thousands of these images into composite portraits of Chen. They have the street revolution “look” to them that must be making Chinese authorities jittery, but not enough to release Chen yet.
Crazy Crab is sponsored by the “Jubilee Campaign,” “Women’s Rights without Frontiers” and U.S. Congressman Chris Smith, R-N.J., along with many bloggers and supporters. Pictures are sent to the artist via these intermediaries because of because of concern for his safety.
“Crazy Crab” uses a pseudonym and hides his location because he is well aware of the fate of public dissenters in China – if there are many left. The Chinese political/satire artist is part of a groundswell of underground protest over abuse and corruption taking place in China today, similar to the massive Ai Wei Wei protests, only without much help from the West yet.
Chen’s plight has sparked a worldwide movement, using his iconic sunglasses as a symbol of injustice. Throughout China and the Internet, Chen Guangcheng’s face and dark glasses appear on posters, websites and in conversations. He is a becoming a symbol and rallying point for the fight for liberty and freedom in China with the help of artists such as Crazy Crab.
Perhaps it’s Chen’s blindness that so starkly casts the state as bully and persecutor, or it may just be tinder for the chaotic times. It is illegal in China to even support human rights activists, but this clever campaign evades those laws in a passive-aggressive sort of way. A visitor to China may notice, for example, an unusual number of people wearing sunglasses on dark, dreary days.
Though it is not beyond the realm of possibility that the People’s Republic of China would attempt to outlaw sunglasses, earning victims prison sentences during their “cultural” revolution.
Chen was born blind and received no formal education, yet he taught himself law and became a human rights lawyer. He specifically targeted the corrupt communist bureaucracy and forced the State of China to defend itself in court, advocating for the poor, weak and helpless. This did not earn him many friends in government, and they probably won’t make a “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” film of his life anytime soon either.
Ironically, while the Chinese dread unfavorable comments and bad press, Chen’s case has focused a continual stream of attention, press and visitors attempting to learn his fate (although no one has been allowed in as of this writing). In fact it was Chen’s comments to Time Magazine over forced abortion and sterilization policies that first roused the ire of the People’s Republic, forcing them to invent charges such as “obstructing traffic” and “damaging property,” because “making us look stupid” would be much too obvious.
Last month “Batman” star Christian Bale was in the headlines for an unscripted fight with Chinese police after traveling nine hours in a vain attempt to visit Chen.
Bale told CNN he wanted to “shake the man’s hand and tell him what an inspiration he is,” after a car chase worthy of an action movie. Supporters are encouraging more celebrities to stand up for Chen and other political and religious prisoners.
Lifesite News quoted Reggie Littlejohn of WRWF describing Bale as a hero: “He is starring in the most expensive film ever made in China, which China hopes will win an Academy Award. Nevertheless, he has the courage to stand against official injustice and has greatly raised the visibility of Chen’s case.”
China’s neighbor North Korea is another target for art and human rights campaigns at the moment. Kim Jong Il died on Dec. 17, 2011 and the world sounded a collective sigh of relief. While the most oppressed people on earth pretend to grieve, rights groups, churches, politicians and artists are attempting to pry open the gates of hell currently known as North Korea.
Artist and North Korean survivor Song Byeok, whose work I featured last fall, has finally received his wish for an U.S. exhibit of his work. His unusual background as an official propaganda artist for the Kim regime provides him the perfect form to mock the government and expose its cruelty using the tools and training it provided him.
The Goat Farm Visual and Performing Center in Atlanta will feature 20 of Song’s acrylic paintings from Feb. 17-26, 2012. He is also scheduled to speak on his life and work at Emory University on Feb. 21. Song’s work is based on the rigid, visual hyperbole meant to be taken quite seriously in its original form. Informed and sophisticated American audiences will likely find them droll, campy and ridiculous, just as he intends.
Song lived a easy life in starving Puppetland until he tried to leave and was imprisoned, swiftly changing his attitude and art subjects. He has struggled to hold these exhibits as a way of fighting back and to “skewer the pretensions of the North Korean regime.”
Anthony Harper, who directs the Goat Farm, said Song’s work was necessary to weaken a regime that “survives off of repression, the control of information and a massive untruth.” He describes Song’s art in the Global Post as offering a “rare lens” into a secretive society almost beyond belief.
As a refugee in South Korea, Song worked with little support on a subject many there would rather not think about. Will Americans be any different? Song hopes we will take the subject seriously and run with it. He seems to esteem the American ethic of human rights, as do many who arrive here expecting to find a higher standard of justice. I hope that he will still find that here and that America will not disappoint Song Byeok in his quest.
Note: Chinese and international “Sunglasses” campaigns have raised the visibility of Chen’s case. It is simple to show support for Chen by taking a picture of yourself wearing sunglasses and loading them at these sites like this. Please also consider praying for justice for all political and religious prisoners.