Artist Feature: Ai Wei Wei
Ai Weiwei is the most famous Chinese artist alive, although his status as a dissident in his home country complicates his relationship with Chinese identity. His prolific body of sculptural, installation, video and performance pieces span several continents and dozens of mediums. His installation piece and investigations about the collapse of several school buildings and the death of thousands of school children due to corruption and an earthquake in the Sichuan province of China in 2008 led him to be badly beaten by the Chinese police. He suffered massive internal bleeding and had to have emergency brain surgery. After another arrest, and other negative encounters with the Chinese government, Ai Weiwei has been living abroad since 2015.
Weiwei’s art often deals with power, corruption, displacement, and the tension between tradition and modernity. He most often creates works about the political atmosphere in China, although his work also focuses on freedom movements throughout history, the refugee crisis in Syria, and the surveillance state, both in China and globally. Weiwei is very interested in playing with the global perception of China, and of Chinese citizens’ flawed perceptions of their own history.
In Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn, Ai Weiwei lets an ancient ceramic urn fall, documenting as it is smashed to pieces. This performance deals with the complicated role of ancient Chinese history in the modern Chinese state. In Mao’s China, many ancient artifacts and buildings were destroyed, and libraries and cultural institutions were purged of historical records. Today’s China has an even more complex relationship with history. Although the Communist Party embraces parts of ancient Chinese history, they also attempt to remember Mao as a positive force and gloss over his destruction of cultural artifacts and the murder of millions. They also censor many historical events online and imprison or punish citizens for discussing them. All of these conflicts and hypocrisies are evident in Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn, where the fragility of history and memory are on full display.
Ai Wei Wei | Art by Kat Sampson
Ai Wei Wei
“Everything is art. Everything is politics.”
Ai Weiwei continues to work internationally, although he lives in Portugal with his family. His sculptures, performances, installations, and video art are politically charged, holding the governments of the world to account for their mistreatment of their people, and the rejection of refugees. He’s a critical contemporary voice, using his artwork for political change.
In collaboration with Kat Sampson, we present The Not Just Dead White Guys coloring book with 24 vibrant portraits, showcasing diverse artists, both deceased and living. Half are contemporary artists, including Ai Wei Wei who are shaping the art scene today, while the others are important historical figures. Join us to celebrate their diverse contributions and create a more inclusive art world!
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