Ai Weiwei’s cactus and crab packs political punch

Ai Weiwei has another work on show in London: a living sculpture, “The Box”, consisting of a crab and a cactus in the small confined space of a white box (the artist has been incarcerated for months at a time in China) is at the Pippy Houldsworth Gallery from today.

As with the box, the significance of the prickly cactus is fairly easy to work out but what some Western commentators may me missing is what the crab may mean, especially if it turns out to be a river crab. The gallery had to search around for the right kind of cactus as stipulated by Ai. I do hope they managed to obtain a Chinese mitten crab — the river crab — as this carries an extra layer of meaning in written Chinese: harmony which has become synonymous with censorship.

In Chinese Mandarin, the word “River crab” (河蟹), which originally means Chinese mitten crab, sounds similar to “Harmonious/Harmonize/Harmonization” (Chinese: 和谐) in the word “Harmonious society” (和谐社会), Chinese leader Hu Jintao’s signature ideology.

Along with “grass mud horse” (meaning yo mama’s anatomy), river crabs have been used for years by China’s netizens to goad the Chinese government. Let’s hope they let him out for the launch of his pavilion at the Serpentine Gallery in London this summer.

For your edification and amusement, here’s The Song of the Mud Grass Horse which makes South Park look like Enid Blyton.

Ai Weiwei’s The Box is at the Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, 6 Heddon Street, London W1, 27 April – 26 May 2012.

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