• News
  • Aug 14, 2017

Artists evicted from Iowa co-op in Beijing’s Caochangdi Art District

On August 11, members of the artist community in the Caochangdi art district in northeastern Beijing were forced to evacuate from their homes and studio spaces.

Chinese dissident artists Ai Weiwei and Wu Yuren, who were under state surveillance for many years when they were still living in China, uploaded footage recorded during the evictions at Caochangdi as whistleblowing gestures.

In their video clips, the art district’s much-loved artist co-op Iowa can been seen cordoned off, with uniformed officials restricting access by the public. As artists are forcibly removed from their residences and studios by Chinese police, construction workers sit beside the commune’s entrance, waiting to begin their demolition work immediately after the artists are removed.

The occupants of the Iowa co-op were given written notice on July 31, then August 1 and 5, to leave the site, citing illegal construction and land-use on 6.1 acres of land as the official reason for eviction and demolition. To prepare for the arrival of Chinese state security apparatus, the artists of the Iowa co-op laid out a “rainbow carpet” to welcome the Beijing police officers mobilized for the operation.

In several videos, the artists are led out of the commune by policemen, who hand them a plastic trash bag filled with what appears to be loose RMB bills in denominations of 100, 50 and 5. Some artists are seen throwing handfuls of bills and emptying their bags at the officers who are escorting them off the premises. Residents who voiced their outrage as they confront the officers, as well as those who were reluctant to leave their spaces, were manhandled by the police and dragged out of the neighborhood.

Following the mass evictions and demolitions that began seven years ago in Beijing’s Chaoyang district, the art zone Caochangdi had persevered to retain its utopian spirit, becoming home to many artists who were struggling to afford the skyrocketing rents in central Beijing. However, much like Songzhuang—China’s largest artist colony demolished earlier in March—Caochangdi was not exempt from the government’s plans for economic and urban renewal.

With new high-rise developments and forceful government evictions, Chinese artists are struggling to locate affordable studio and living spaces in key East Asian art hubs.

Julee WJ Chung is the assistant editor of ArtAsiaPacific.

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