The Courage of Veronica Guerin and Ai Weiwei

Ra’al Ki Victorieux

Some people decide to work denouncing injustices and thereby seek an evolution of social conscience to create a better world. They are investigative journalists, such as Verónica Guerin, and also visual artists who address human rights issues, such as Ai Weiwei, who carry out political, social, and communication activism.

Guerin; Investigation journalism

The main characteristics of this literary genre are: works supported with accurate, verifiable information. The stories have an easy and straightforward narrative, which allows the reader to understand those involved, and what happened. Some stories require years of research in order to connect the loose ends of a story. On many occasions, we associate investigative journalism not only with journalists but with police authorities, as well as private detectives. Not necessarily the police investigation or that carried out by private investigators will see the light in mass media. Crime, mystery, detectives, investigation series are popular in entertainment products. For example: “Bones,” which stars an FBI investigator and a scientist, forensic anthropologist, and is inspired by the life of successful forensic anthropologist and writer Kathy Reichs. Also, numerous series and films based on the great icon of popular culture “Sherlock Holmes”, a fictional private detective created in 1887 by the British writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

“I promise that the eyes of justice, the eyes of this journalist will never close again. (…) No hand can dissuade me from my battle for the truth.”

Veronica Guerin

In the case of Veronica Guerin, we are talking about an Irish journalist who was murdered in 1996 by drug traffickers due to her work in investigative journalism. She was 37 years old, married, and had a son of 6. In 1994 she began to write about organized crime for the Sunday Independent. Due to these articles, she received death threats: shots at her house, a bullet in her leg, as well as a beating by John Gilligan when she tried to interview him. Thanks to her efforts to expose the drug mafia and the damage it causes to adolescents, after her death, the protests of parents against drugs became massive. This put pressure on the authorities, who: they judged and imprisoned John Gilligan for drug trafficking, they confiscated the assets of several leaders of the mafia, including John Traynor, Brian Meehan, and Paul “Hippo” Ward, and they created the CAB (Criminal Assets Bureau), and taxes that could affect criminals. Her life has been portrayed in the films “When the Sky Falls”, 2000, directed by John Mackenzie, and “Veronica Guerin”, 2003, directed by Joel Schumacher. She was recognized in 1995 with the International Press Freedom Awards, awarded by the CPJ (Committee to Protect Journalists). In 2000 she was commemorated with the recognition of the International Press Institute for World Press Freedom Heroes. Guerin’s work is an example of investigative journalism, fieldwork, tenacity to know the truth and to make her complaint be recognized and supported by society and the authorities.

Weiwei, Research Based Art Project

Visual arts projects that are based on research on a topic of social relevance are becoming more and more common. Some creatives prefer to take non-political themes as a reference and keep their creation in the “safe” area of ​​”art for art’s sake”, and therefore, they research and create from classical literary works, philosophical, religious, or even children’s documents. There are those like Ai Weiwei who prefer to navigate controversial and current issues that involve a complaint, a clamor for justice, or at least to go and transcend the indifference to the wounds of contemporary society. He is one of the best-known Chinese artists, an activist who has been involved together with his team of students and workers on issues such as migration, the disappearance of young people in Mexico, the students killed in the earthquake in China, among others. Weiwei’s work speaks to us by heart, presents a way of documenting personal experience in the face of collective phenomena, and presenting it in an aesthetic way in art venues -museums, galleries, biennials-. He has also made numerous audiovisual works around his research and creativity processes, lifting his voice for values ​​and human rights, and raising awareness in relation to a dignified life for those who have the least.

Maybe being powerful means being fragile.

Ai Weiwei

Son of Ai Qing, a controversial Chinese poet, he knew from childhood what repression by the authorities meant. His father was considered “anti-system”, and denounced during the Anti-Right Movement, and because of this, his family was sent to a labor camp in Beidahuang, Heilongjiang, when Ai Weiwei was one year old. They were subsequently exiled to Shihezi, Xinjiang in 1961, where he lived for 16 years. After the death of Mao Zedong and the end of the Cultural Revolution, the family returned to Beijing in 1976. In 2014, with his installation “Illumination” he staged issues such as freedom of expression and human rights, giving voice to silenced dissidents. He installed recordings of Tibetan and Native American chants in two bright mint psychiatric evaluation rooms in a former prison hospital. In 1981 he traveled to the United States, mainly living in New York seeking to dedicate himself to art with greater freedom. It was a time of learning and experimentation. Due to his father’s illness, he returned to China in 1993. In 2008, he conducted a citizen inquiry to remember those who died after the earthquake in Sichuan. This list of more than five thousand names caused him to be beaten by the police, he was diagnosed with internal bleeding in 2009, which is considered to be linked to the attack he received previously. He suffered harassment by the authorities, such as hacking of his Internet accounts, investigation of his bank accounts, etc. In 2010 he was placed under house arrest, in the end, his studio was demolished, he was prohibited from leaving China, and he was arrested in April 2011. This detention motivated the solidarity of international governments, human rights groups, and art institutions that called for Ai’s release. Official media described him as deviant and plagiarist in a smear campaign. He was released on June 22, 2011, he says that during the 81 days in detention he suffered an ordeal, two guards had to accompany him all the time, day and night, even to go to the bathroom.

“The world will not change if the burden of responsibility is not assumed.”

Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei has created a large body of artistic work, in visual arts, architecture, film, and music. Among the films and documentaries related to his work we can mention: Never Sorry, from 2012, directed by American filmmaker Alison Klayman, Human Flow, from 2017, a documentary directed by Weiwei and co-produced by Andy Cohen about the global refugee crisis, and Ai Weiwei: Yours Truly, from 2020, which covered the creation and exhibition of Trace; 176 portraits being of various political prisoners and prisoners of conscience. He has been recognized with numerous awards both in the art system and by organizations that work for human rights. In 2013, he became an ambassador for Reporters Without Borders. He is one of the artists who have dedicated his life to thinking about the world we live in and expressing his voice through art, for those who have been silenced, for those who, from their fragility or disappearance, shout out for memory and justice.


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