The top 2015 human rights award from Amnesty International – the non-governmental and non-profit organisation focused on human rights – has been given to both Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei and American folk singer, Joan Baez. Both Ai and Baez were given the Ambassador of Conscience Award, a decoration that recognises “those who have shown exceptional leadership in the fight for human rights, through their life and work,” Amnesty said in a statement.
Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai, South African former President Nelson Mandela, and Myanmar’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi have all been previous recipients of the prestigious award. “Through his work Ai Weiwei reminds us that the right of every individual to express their self must be protected, not just for the sake of society, but also for art and humanity,” Salil Shetty, Amnesty’s Secretary General, said in a statement to the press.
The Chinese artist and activist has been an outspoken critic of China’s political system. An unsurprising fact given that Ai Weiwei, has variously suffered violence, detention and denial of travel rights by the Chinese authorities. Ai has investigated government corruption and cover-ups, in particular the Sichuan schools corruption scandal following the collapse of so-called “tofu-dreg schools” in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. In 2011, following the artist’s arrest at Beijing Capital International Airport on 3 April, he was held for 81 days without any official charges being filed; officials alluded to allegations of “economic crimes”.
In September 2015, hot on the heels of Anselm Kiefer, David Hockney, and Anish Kapoor, the Royal Academy will present a landmark exhibition of the now Honorary Royal Academician. The show is the first significant British survey of Ai’s artistic output, and will include major works spanning the artist’s career, as well as including new work by the Chinese activist.
Of Baez, Shetty added,”With her mesmerising voice and unwavering commitment to peaceful protest and human rights for all, Joan Baez has been formidable force for good over more than five decades.” The award will be presented at a ceremony on May 21 in Berlin, however given Ai’s passport situation, it is doubtful that the artist will be there to collect it on person.