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visual arts

Detail of a year-old photo of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei and four women, in which all five subjects are naked. Last Thursday, Ai’s cameraman Zhao Zhao was reportedly questioned by police for four hours about the photo on the grounds he was spreading pornography.Reuters

Dozens of Web users have posted nude photos in support of artist Ai Weiwei and his fight against renewed allegations by Chinese authorities.

The nude subjects are protesting news that Ai's assistant is being investigated for spreading pornography, another stage in what many describe as a campaign of harassment by the Chinese government against the artist.

Last Thursday, Ai's cameraman Zhao Zhao was reportedly questioned by police for four hours about an artfully rendered nude photo he took of Ai and four women last year. The five are seated demurely on old Chinese wooden chairs in a stark room.

"If they see nudity as pornography, then China is still in the Qing dynasty," Ai reportedly told the media.

Ai had also released a naked photo of himself leaping comically into the air, covering his genitals, with a caption containing a double meaning. When spoken, the wording can sound similar to swearing at the Chinese Communist Party.

Early this year, Ai was imprisoned for 81 days, accused of tax evasion and fined 15 million yuan ($2.5-million) for back taxes. Public figures in arts and politics from around the world have condemned what they see as Chinese authorities trying to repress Ai.

Now, with the latest pornography investigation, the public outcry has gone grassroots with the nude photos submitted online by supporters.

The nude snapshots on a blog called "Ai Wei Fans' Nudity – Listen, Chinese Government: Nudity Is Not Pornography" are mostly benign, although a number border on being sexual material.

Some are artful shots, but many are intentionally comical, such as one of a nude running on the beach with balloons. Another is a massive group shot said to be by Chinese artist He Yunchang. A small number of images look like they were crudely taken in showers, but most are semi-naked.

There are a few baby photos and at least one of a playful child posted on the site. However harmless the original shots may have been, they may disturb viewers when seen along side some of the more aggressive adult images.