Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Ai Weiwei: Art and Provocations

Today, the media is full of news about a blind Chinese poet-dissident who has escaped to the U. S. Embassy. It took my mind back to last year when another artist - Ai Weiwei - was "detained" because he dared to criticize the government.

Ai Weiwei (1957-) is a well-known artist in the West. "Artist' is such a general term for someone who also sculpts, does installation art, photographs, curates, creates architecture, and is a film maker.  However, it was Weiwei as a political dissident and critic that he ran into trouble with the Chinese government.

It could be said that Weiwei came by his overt criticism of the political system naturally. His father, a poet, and his mother were denounced in 1958 and sent to a labor camp. Weiwei was one year old when his parents were sent away. It would be 16 years before he saw his parents again.

Safe to say that Weiwei grew up knowing that anti-government activities were dangerous. His art education in the U.S. from 1981 to 1993 might have provided exposure to open government criticism. Whatever the circumstances that formed Weiwei, he became a dissident in China.

His open political opinions and his fame as an artist brings embarrassment to the politico.
In 2009, he was beaten by police. In 2010, he was placed under house arrest. Later the same year, his studio was bulldozed. He was arrested in 2011 on tax evasion and is out on bail... and the list of harassment goes on.

In spite of diabetes and hypertension, he continues to be a thorn in the government's side. As he stated in his interview with TIME magazine, he's more interested in individuals being treated fairly than the form of government.

Weiwei could leave China. He's had many exhibits throughout Europe and the U.S. He's so well known that he could seek asylum in the West and probably be granted it. Instead, he continues to poke the eye of those in power. As an artist-as-provocateur, Weiwei joins a long list of dissident artists who railed against unfair systems that suppress the population and who paid dearly for it. (Below are examples of some of his works. Click images to enlarge.)

Weiwei, architectural consultant "Bird's Nest" stadium for the Olympics in Beijing.
"Fountain of Light," 2007 (at his studio)
"Cube Light," 2008
"Sunflower Seeds," 2010 at the huge Turbine Hall, London, England. 100 million porcelain seeds as a play on "Made in China" and the commercialization of the ancient porcelain centers of China.


  1. I remember hearing about him last year on the news. Imagine what happens to people who don't have his fame. June

  2. Thanks R, I didn't know about him and I am glad I do now!
    Elaine Phillips