Having grown up in suburban Philadelphia, born to a Yiddish-speaking mother, Alison Klayman is a surprising conduit for China’s most famous dissident artist. In between many jobs, including writing for this newspaper (and interviewing the Chinese about their knowledge of Jews and Judaism before the influx of visitors for the 2010 Olympics, for JTA), she spent three years documenting the life, art and activism of Ai Weiwei. Klayman spoke to the Forward’s Dan Friedman shortly before the premiere of her documentary feature, “Never Sorry,” at this year’s Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.
Dan Friedman: You’ve been in America working on the film. Have you seen Ai Weiwei since he was arrested April 3 and then released 81 days later?
Alison Klayman: I last saw him in September. I was still able to go over there with my old visa. He’s on Beijing arrest, so he’s not allowed to leave the city for a year from when he was released.
But they recently announced a major American show for him in 2012. How did he arrange the show while under city arrest?
Yes, he’s going to be at the Hirshhorn [Museum] starting in October. While I was over in Beijing there were curators coming every day to see him. The truth is that even though this still is a tricky time where he is supposed to have restrictions about the kinds of things he can talk about and see, work on his art, in theory, is not one of them. He just has to provide the police with a list every week of people who came, and the curators are on that list.
Was the earthquake in 2008 in Sichuan province the turning point for Ai in his activism?