When Ai Weiwei’s passport was confiscated three years ago without reason, CSM alumnus Tom Wu and former intern of Wei Wei couldn’t be silent. He decided to pull back the veil and reveal the tricks of the Chinese state through his new project, “Ai Can’t Be Here”. He has injected the political punch of WeiWei into fashion, to the dismay of the Chinese authorities. It has been gaining traction and recognition in boutiques around the world. Wu faced unexpected retaliation when online marketplace Alibaba abruptly shut down his online store in November in 2013. However, Wu is resolute to his cause until Weiwei’s passport is safely returned.
Responding to Weiwei’s secret detainment three years ago, Wu designed a poster that was inscribed with the title of his latest project in an attempt to raise public awareness of the injustice that Weiwei was facing. However, things took a dramatic turn in October. Wu began selling T-shirts for £16.95 on his online store. He excluded any direct reference to Ai Weiwei himself to reduce any condemnation. He said: “I changed the text to Chinese. It sounds like ‘Ai’, but it’s actually means love. I changed it because I was worried that it would cause problems for buyers.”
Despite his efforts, Alibaba gave Wu a mere four days before they pulled the plug. Disappointingly, a total of ten T-shirts were sold. Wu was confused by the company’s hasty actions: “I didn’t receive a warning or anything. I just found out that the store got banned.” As if they had stepped back into the sixties, Wu’s “love” t-shirts have been branded as politically disruptive.
However, it’s exciting to hear that Wu has more plans for the future, and that he remains undeterred by the suppressive nature of Chinese politics. “I’ll be making more and selling them internationally, because I’ll be getting the money to involve more people to take part in the project. I even thought of buying some banners for advertisements in big cities.”
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“The political thing in China forces a lot of people to be quiet about Ai Weiwei. You cannot get any information about him on the internet – it’s blocked. The reason I am trying to tell the story of my internship is because I realized that a lot of Chinese people like him and his work.” – Tom Wu on working with Ai Wei Wei, extracted from a feature in our second issue.