BEIJING – Days after sparking a new Internet meme with photos of people brandishing their legs as guns, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei said Monday that his original posting on Instagram was a statement about the overuse of power in fighting terrorism.
China is in the midst of an anti-terror campaign prompted by several high-profile attacks on civilians over the past year blamed on Muslim militants from the country's far western Xinjiang region. Scores of people have been arrested in Xinjiang, security on subways in cities throughout the country has been tightened and many local police are now carrying guns for the first time.
"People from all over the world have been experiencing panic because of terrorist attacks such as 9/11 and problems such as the existence of weapons," Ai said in an interview Monday.
"Power is being overused in the name of counterterrorism," he said.
Last Wednesday, the dissident artist began posting photos of himself, ballet dancers and others on Instagram in poses interpreted as legs being held as guns.
Within days, they spawned hundreds of imitators on the photo-sharing website, including poses in bedrooms, on sidewalks and up a tree, featuring individuals, groups, children and even Kermit the frog. But there was no consensus on what the images were meant to say.
Ai said Monday that a caption reading "Beijing anti-terrorism series," which accompanied one of his originals, was a reference to anti-terror campaigns that are a "ubiquitous phenomenon," not just in China.
"Power is being used in the name of protecting you," Ai said. "But what they are actually doing is something which deserves a lot of discussion. And what is terrorism doing to you? It is hurting lives? Or is it putting a huge burden on everybody?"
Ai cautioned against over-interpreting the slew of online leg-gun photos, which he said were unexpected and coming from "all social strata."
"The Internet is flowing. You come up with something basic, and everybody will find it easy to express themselves based on that," he said.