Ai Weiwei

Ai Wei Wei (pronounced as ‘Eye way way’) born on 28th August,1957 in Beijing, China is the most famous Chinese Artist living today and one of the most powerful artists of the present times. He expands the definition of art to include the new forms of Social Engagement and as a Social Activist, he has been highly and openly critical about Chinese government’s stance on Democracy and Human Rights. In a country where Free speech is not recognized as a right, the police as beaten him up, kept him under House-Arrest, bulldozed his newly build studio ,kept him under surveillance, infact he can’t even travel anywhere without official permission, but none of which has ever stopped him from raising his voice in the form of his Art. He is a symbol of struggle of Human Rights in China. Usage of his name is literally banned in China, its’ considered a kind of abuse , even making a google search shows Illegal Content as an result and all this is just because he dared to go against the flow and raise his voice against the unjust policies and steps of China’s government.

In 1990s, he went to New York to study Art. In those days, the more Anti-Authoritarian and oppositional your statements are, its’ better.  After his Studies when he returned to China , a really different environment than what he had seen, where the people are far less open to views. It became very clear to him that both this nations have distinct opinions about criticism and opinions. But he still didn’t agree to conform. He is a kind of an artist, who puts his life to line to defend freedom of Speech. Viewed as a threat to “Harmonious Society” , he is one of the earliest artists to use the Social media -Instagram and Twitter in particular to share his content and thoughts. From smashing an ancient vase to reciting the names of the Children who died due to government’s negligence during the Sichuan earthquake of 2008, Ai’s Dramatic actions highlight the reality of Chinese Society. So what is it that makes him the “most powerful artist”? It’s definitely his style of art, and the concepts and ideas that go behind the making of every single piece. He has dared to cross the line and put the present crises of the Modern Chinese Society into a powerful artwork. The main goal has been to deliver his pungent message through any medium – photography, sculpture, ready-made, performance, architecture, tweets and blogs. His work is designed to remind us that risk-taking is an essential part of a democratic society.

Government has been spying on the artist since a decade now, he is always checked whenever he is going somewhere. Maybe that’s the price which he is paying for mending his thoughts on the present scenario of the nation, exposing it the rest of the world. Ai’s father, the renowned poet Ai Qing, ran afoul of the regime in the late ’50s and he and his family were sent to a labor camp. He spent five years cleaning toilets. (Ai Qing was exonerated in 1978 and lived in Beijing until his death in 1996.) To Ai Weiwei, there was also another, less personal kind of emptiness about the China of before.

There were almost no cars on the street, No private cars, only embassy cars. You could walk in the middle of the street. It was very slow, very quiet and very gray. There were not so many expressions on human faces. After the Cultural Revolution, muscles were still not built up to laugh or show emotion. When you saw a little bit of color—like a yellow umbrella in the rain—it was quite shocking. The society was all gray, and a little bit blue.

In 1981, when Chinese people where allowed to travel abroad, he came to New York for studies. He described that when he first saw the city from the window of the flight it seemed to him like a bowl of Diamonds. It was not the material wealth that attracted him, but the dazzling freedom of speech and Action. Now when he returned back in 1993 to China, due to his father’s illness, he saw all new culture that had fostered there, but there was no justice of fairness in the society. He blames the Chinese educational system for failing to generate any grand or open-ended sense of possibility either for individuals or the society as a whole. Instead of teaching a new way of thinking, Education is just controlling people’s mind, he says.

The most important of his Artworks include

Dropping of Han Dynasty Urn (1995)


One of his earliest work, Ai demonstrates his show-stopping conceptual brilliance, and desire to provoke controversy. Outside his mother’s home in Beijing, he dropped and smashed a 2000-year old ceremonial urn. Not only did the artifact have considerable value, but symbolic and cultural worth. The Han dynasty is considered a defining moment in Chinese civilization. Understandably, antique dealers were outraged, calling Ai’s work an act of desecration. Ai countered by saying “General Mao used to tell us that we can only build a new world if we destroy the old one.” In its literal iconoclasm and spotlight on hypocrisy, this smashed vase embodies the central message Ai would continue to explore.


Study of Perspective Tiananmen Square (1995)


In what first appears to be a classic tourist snapshot, Ai sticks his middle finger up at Tiananmen Square Gate. Also known as the “Gate of Heavenly Peace”, and formerly the front entrance to the Forbidden City, this was also the site of the brutal massacre in 1989 in which state soldiers shot peaceful protesters. The Beijiing government still refuses to discuss it, and censors all footage of the event.

It was part of a series begun in 1995 and completed in 2003. The Eiffel Tower in Paris, The Reichstag in Berlin and the White House in Washington D.C. all get the same treatment in these parodies of Renaissance perspective. The central rule that objects closer to the eye must appear larger is being used to showcase an offensive gesture expressing Ai’s basic disdain for state power, which is by no means limited to China. When Ai was arrested and interrogated by the Chinese police in 2011, his interviewers limited their questions, however, to this particular photograph, demanding an explanation. Ai stated that he had meant to target “Feudalism”, explaining that the gate had been built by a Ming Emperor. While Ai’s interrogators could not acknowledge it, they were no doubt aware of another layer of visual symbolism.


Ton of Tea (2008)


This work compresses a ton of traditional pu’er tea leaves into the space of one cubic meter. Aesthetically, it recalls the glass and steel cubes of Minimalism. Much tea in China is still produced in compressed cubes, so this is also an enlarged form of an everyday domestic item. While in the West, drinking tea (especially from Chinese porcelain) has historically been a status symbol, tea is the everyday drink in China. The brand here is one of the most common.


Straight (2008-12)


Both a stylized representation of an earthquake and an image of its effects, Straight is a statement about a specific instance of governmental corruption and negligence. The province of Sichuan suffered massive casualties in an earthquake of 2008, leaving 90,000 dead or missing. Over 5,000 were children killed when poorly constructed schools collapsed on top of them. It is part of the artist’s broader effort to hold the Chinese government responsible and urge it to take preventative steps to avoid future disaster. It took him four years to complete this monumental floor sculpture –almost 40 feet long and 20 feet wide – weighing 200 tons. To construct it, he collected the bent and broken steel reinforcement bars that were part of the badly built schools, commenced and mended it until they looked as they would have before the quake. He arranged the bars in waves that resemble the oscillations in an earthquake on a seismograph. The Government for sure did not appreciate the attention that the artist drew toward such an embarrassing situation.


Sunflower Seeds (2010)


In 2010 Ai filled the enormous Turbine Hall of London’s Tate Modern with exactly 100,000,000 porcelain sunflower seeds, each made by a craftsman from the Chinese city of Jingdezhen. Hundreds of individuals had therefore been hired to produce by hand what appeared to have grown from nature. Like Ton of Tea, it is made from a substance (porcelain) made for export that has long sustained the Chinese economy. Questions about how it was made led the audience to greater understanding of contemporary mass-manufacturing practices in China. Much is still made by hand in an economy where machines are expensive and labor (and human life in general) is cheap.


Surveillance Camera (2010)


Surveillance Camera, an austere and quite beautiful marble sculpture, reminds us that the artist is watching those who watch him. Like tea or porcelain, his choice of medium has significance. A surveillance camera in marble (literally, set in stone) reminds us of the omnipresence of this feature in Ai’s life, as well as its role as a stand in for an authority, like the statue of a Roman emperor.


He Xei (2011)


“He Xei” means “river crab.” In a complex system it also means “censorship.” Thirdly, it sounds like the term for “harmonious,” and a well-known Chinese Communist Party slogan prizes the “realization of a harmonious society” – this is often the reason given for limiting access to information.

In a clever play on words, this society of crabs/censorship is far from harmonious. Cast in black and red (the colors of the Chinese Communist Party) these hard-shelled creatures trample each other. The few that escape the pile seem especially vulnerable. In 2014, a visitor accidentally stepped on one and crushed it, an unintended metaphor for the consequences of resistance.

The West wants to turn him into a hero, but he is reluctant to oblige. But Ai, if not a Hero, has found many ways to symbolize many Qualities that China may one day celebrate him for protecting and asserting. Free discussion is one of them. His art has inspired many people across the Globe and his free spirited thoughts and deep actions have consequently inspired the Chinese people to create a society where everyone is given equal rights and freedom. The doors which he has opened are surely going to play an important part in the future of the nation.



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