BERLIN (dpa) – Chinese painter, photographer and poet Liu Xia has lived under house arrest in the Chinese capital Beijing for five years.
Her works are banned, she is watched around the clock and she can’t even go and fetch milk without a police officer accompanying her.
The 53-year-old’s “crime”? She is the wife of the Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo, who was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2009 for his work on the human rights charter known as Charta 08.
“This woman is suffering what we called ‘kin guilt’ in the Nazi period,” says Herbert Wiesner, a member of the international writers’ organisation PEN.
Kin guilt, or Sippenhaft in German, is the practice of punishing all of the family members as well when someone is found guilty of a crime. It is common in North Korea, for example.
The Martin-Gropius-Bau museum in Berlin is devoting an exhibition to the artist with over 50 photographic works in oppressive black and white. They are primarily curious, often disturbing, images of dolls.
One hangs helplessly like a small child off a spiked wooden fence, another can barely breathe under the weight of Chinese characters.
Especially moving is a photo in which Liu’s husband is protectively balancing a horror-stricken crying bundle on his shoulder.
“These works are full of allusions to the repressive situation in which people in China find themselves,” museum director Gereon Sievernich said ahead of the opening of the exhibition, which runs from Saturday until April 19.
“The pictures express a longing. They reflect something that cannot be said in China,” Sievernich said.
The series of images, entitled Ugly Babies, was created between 1996 and 1999, before her house arrest.
Liu Xia describes herself as non-political, Sievernich says, but he adds, “Anyone who is working artistically in China cannot really avoid being political.”
Liu married her long-time boyfriend Liu Xiaobo in 1996 in a Chinese gulag. She later wrote in a poem:
“We planted our tree in sand, Our marriage bed in a cell, We hugged and kissed each other, Under the gaze of the prison guards.”
Following a successful exhibition of work by Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei last year, the Martin-Gropius-Bau museum is continuing to grapple with the persecution of artists in China.
However, while Ai’s expansive works were delivered to Germany in huge containers, Liu’s photos were delivered in the form of negatives by friends.
How the organisers of the exhibition can prevent Liu being punished for the exhibition is not clear, but PEN member Wiesner said her situation has eased slightly in recent days.
She was even able to receive a mobile phone call from a friend in the German city of Cologne, he said.
New York financier and human rights advocate Jim Glanzer, who is one of the sponsors of the exhibition, said the pictures speak for themselves.
He said they will open people’s eyes about what is really happening in China.