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Ai Weiwei Documentary Maker to Appear on 'The Colbert Report'

Ai Weiwei
Gao Yuan/Aiweiweifilm.com

The jailed artist met family members Saturday for the first time in six weeks' of detention.

BEIJING – Alison Klayman, whose documentary about detained Chinese activist artist Ai Weiwei is in post-production, will appear on The Colbert Report on Monday night.

No laughing matter, Klayman’s talk about Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry on one of the most popular television shows in the United States comes as Ai was allowed his first family visit after 43 days of detention at an undisclosed location suspected to be near the Chinese capital.

Ai, 53, the co-designer of the Beijing Olympics’ main stadium, currently has a series of giant bronze sculpted animal heads on display in Columbus Circle in New York City, where he previously lived. The 12 monumental bronze zodiac heads will next travel to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on July 15.

The artist's outspoken criticism of the shoddy construction of state-run schoolhouses that collapsed in the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan, killing thousands of children, earned him a reputation with China’s one-party government as more than just an artist whose work had something to say.

Ai’s rabble-rousing activism after the quake, in which he digitally recorded himself and collaborating volunteers helping him to document the effect of the schools’ collapse and tally the names of the child casualties, finally prompted a police beating that sent him to Germany for brain surgery.

But, as Klayman’s film’s subtitle suggests, Ai persisted in his work and began a popular Twitter tally (though the service is blocked in China) of the names of activists and writers detained in an ongoing state crackdown on dissent. Authorities bulldozed his workshop and since his detention April 3, say they are investigating him for financial crimes and pornography.

His detention has prompted an international outpouring of attention, seeing such artists such as novelist Salman Rushdie to declare the Chinese government the world’s “greatest threat to freedom of speech.”

No Chinese artist of any standing has made public comments of solidarity with Ai and requests for comment sent to some of China’s most prominent filmmakers went unanswered.

Klayman’s film about Ai, which she shot freelance from 2008-2010, is the first feature-length film about Ai. The film’s website says it examines the “complex intersection of artistic practice and social activism as seen through the life and art of China’s preeminent contemporary artist.”

Citing the artist’s wife, the Associated Press reported Monday that Ai appeared healthy but tense during his first meeting with family since he was detained more than a month ago.

Ai's wife Lu Qing told the AP she was allowed to meet with her husband at an unknown location for around 20 minutes Sunday afternoon and that he seemed conflicted and upset, although insisted he was healthy and his physical needs were being met.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and officials from the European Union and elsewhere have called on China to release Mr. Ai and criticized Beijing for what they say is backsliding on human rights.