In the Name of Art: Ai Weiwei ‘Corpse’ Statue Alarms German Residents

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THOMAS FREY / AFP / Getty Images

Visitors look at Chinese artist He Xiangyu's work "The Death of Marat" featuring the corpse of Ai Weiwei on October 28, 2011 in Bad Ems, western Germany.

Contrary to what some Germans may be thinking, Ai is still alive and kicking.

He Xiangyu’s art exhibit, “The Death of Marat,” in Bad Ems, Germany has everyone talking – about the corpse lying face down in a window display. Of course, it’s not really a corpse — it’s a statue effigy of Chinese activist Ai Weiwei.

Passersby are mistaking it for a human corpse, and, not surprisingly, have already alerted local authorities. “Several people had already called within days of the exhibition going up,” said Peter Steger, a spokesman for the police in Bad Ems. A local resident also filed charges for disturbing the peace of the dead, thinking the corpse was real.

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He, a Chinese artist, said the exhibit was intended to praise Ai’s defiant actions despite the Chinese government’s constant threats of imprisonment. Ai, who helped lead the design at the Bird’s Nest Stadium, remains one of Beijing’s most vocal and outspoken critics.

Ai was detained for 81 days by Chinese authorities in early April at Beijing’s Airport en route to Hong Kong. The government claims that Ai was guilty of tax evasion and is seeking $2.4 million in back taxes and fines. According to the Associated Press, a notice demanded that Ai come up with the money in about 10 days or he would face “unspecified measures.”

The government has a long history of detaining prolific dissidents, including lawyers and activists. Among them, 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo is still under detention, while his wife remains under government surveillance.

Erica Ho is a reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @ericamho and Google+. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.