- The Washington Times - Friday, August 12, 2005

BEIJING — A Chinese artist who grafted the head of a human fetus onto the body of a bird has defended his work as art after a Swiss museum withdrew the piece from an exhibit.

“It’s precisely because I respect all life that I did this,” artist Xiao Yu said Tuesday. He said the bird and fetus “died because there was something wrong with them. … I thought putting them together like this was a way for them to have another life.”

On Monday, Swiss museum visitor Adrien de Riedmatten, 29, filed a complaint with the district attorney of Bern, Switzerland, calling for an investigation into the piece, which was on display at the Bern Art Museum.

“I want to know where this baby comes from and if it was killed for this work,” Mr. de Riedmatten said. “We know about the problems of late-term abortions in China, and we have the right to ask ourselves questions.”

The work was removed, curator Bernhard Fibicher said, because museum directors didn’t want the controversy surrounding it to overshadow the rest of the “Mahjong” exhibit, which features avant-garde Chinese works from the past 25 years. The museum is planning an Aug. 22 symposium with artists, philosophers and ethics experts before deciding whether to re-exhibit the piece.

Mr. Xiao said he bought the head in 1999 for a few dollars from a man who was cleaning out a scientific exhibition hall. The glass bottle in which it came had a handwritten sticker identifying it as a female specimen from the 1960s. According to the artist, the sticker gave no name or cause of death.

He said he thought the head belonged to a miscarried fetus rather than an aborted one because it predated China’s “one child” birth-control policy — introduced in the late 1970s to limit most urban couples to one child in order to slow growth of the country’s population, which officially hit 1.3 billion this year. Rural couples and some in cities are allowed two children.

Human rights groups say Chinese officials sometimes force women to have abortions if they already have the maximum number of children.

The name of the piece, “Ruan,” is a word Mr. Xiao invented that combines the Chinese characters for different kinds of animals. He said he added the eyes of a rabbit to the head.

Mr. Xiao is known for shocking material. He once paid an assistant $1,200 to sew pairs of living lab mice together at the hip and displayed them in glass bowls.

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