Saturday, 17 October 2015

Who is Ai WeiWei? | The Small Desk

Ever since Ai WeiWei dumped 100 million sunflower seeds in the Tate Modern in 2010 he has become one of the most famous living artists of our time. Popular in the West, but deeply unpopular in the eyes of the Chinese government, Wei Wei is an activist and accidental martyr to his cause. WeiWei is putting politics at the forefront of his artwork and it is impossible to ignore. 

In 2011 he was arrested by the Chinese government; his passport was seized and he was forbidden from leaving the country. Now, in 2015, he has his passport back and the Royal Academy is hosting a retrospective of his work, and by default a celebration of his returned passport. I visited this seminal exhibition last week and left feeling deeply moved by his pieces of artwork. The piece that evoked the most emotion in me represented a way to remember and question what happened during the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan, China. 

During the earthquake, which measured 8 on the Richter scale, many schools collapsed and thousands of students died. WeiWei points out that the materials used to build the schools were flimsy and the structures were never going to withstand an earthquake. This is a country that is prone to earthquakes. Builders cut corners and the supervising agencies reportedly did not check the work carried out. They were nicknamed 'tofu buildings' because they were made from iron wires instead of steel rods, and very low quality cement. The heart-wrenching thing is that due to the one child policy in China, many parents lost their only child. WeiWei has produced a few artworks on this subject and one is a list of all the students that died; a list that was not produced by the Chinese government.

His stance against the Chinese government did not go unnoticed and having testified for a fellow investigator of the earthquake, the Chinese police beat him so badly that he had to undergo emergency brain surgery for internal bleeding. People love the idea of the tortured artist; and the artist who is willing to die for his work. Ai WeiWei is this.

In China today the focus of teaching in art schools is on Realist painting. In order to diversify his skills and ideas Ai travelled to the US in 1981 where he discovered the work of Andy Warhol. If you're lucky enough to be in Melbourne in early 2016 or Pittsburgh in summer 2016 you can see an exhibition of WeiWei's work alongside Warhol's!

I'm currently reading Hanging Man, The Arrest of Ai WeiWei by Barnaby Martin, and hope to discover more about him. At present I'm reading the bit about Ai's father and his links to Mao. There is plenty more to read about WeiWei and I encourage you to listen to his Ted talk as well.

I hope you enjoyed another art post, and let me know which artists you would like to know more about in the comments below! Thanks for reading!


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