Artist Ai Weiwei is without doubt the most very well-known residing Chinese innovative these days, but his country’s governing administration doesn’t accurately give him the recognition he justifies. In communist China—where liberty of speech is tightly regulated—Ai’s diversified portfolio of function does not fetch the highest costs at auctions, and critics really don’t sing his praises. As a substitute, the activist is seen as a danger to the “harmonious culture.” He has spent time in jail, been beaten by law enforcement, and is consistently less than surveillance. He was even barred from leaving Beijing for a complete yr in 2011. As a consequence, he has become an unsung hero and a symbol of the struggle for human legal rights in China.
From smashing an ancient vase to highlighting governmental corruption and carelessness, Ai’s extraordinary actions bridge the hole concerning art and societal challenges. “Creativity is the ability to reject the previous, to alter the standing quo, and to request new possible,” he states. “Simply put, apart from applying one’s imagination—perhaps more importantly—creativity is the power to act.”
By means of sculpture, movie, set up, photography, and architecture—and throughout an array of materials together with ceramics, marble, paint, and tea—Ai explores Chinese id in the fashionable entire world as nicely as the culture’s social background. Study on to uncover 6 of his most well-known operates.
In this article are six key works from across Ai Weiwei’s career.
Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn, 1995
Just one of Ai’s earliest is effective titled Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn demonstrates the artist’s desire to provoke outrage and controversy. Just as the name suggests, Ai photographed himself smashing a 2,000-12 months-aged ceremonial urn from the Han Dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE). The historic artifact not only had considerable monetary well worth, but it also experienced massive symbolic and cultural price. The Han dynasty is viewed as a defining second in Chinese civilization, and the urn signifies a component of background that was wiped out by Mao through the Cultural Revolution (1966-76).
During China’s Cultural Revolution, there was popular destruction of antiquities as properly as the dismantling of China’s outdated customs, habits, tradition, and thoughts. Ai’s deliberate and shocking act of destruction references this big cultural shift and highlights how cultural values are developed and wrecked. The artist was quoted saying, “General Mao made use of to inform us that we can only make a new planet if we wipe out the previous a person.”
Analyze of Viewpoint Tiananmen Sq., 1995
In this provocative snapshot, Ai sticks his middle finger up at Tiananmen Sq. Gate. The gate—also recognized as “Gate of Heavenly Peace”—is the former front entrance to the Forbidden City. It’s also the put the place condition soldiers shot and killed tranquil protesters in 1989. The Chinese govt has under no circumstances publicly acknowledged the brutal massacre and censors all footage and composed data of the occasion.
Ai’s Analyze of Standpoint Tiananmen Square is component of a collection of pics taken between 1995 and 2017. In every photograph, Ai employs the same offensive gesture to demonstrate his disdain for point out energy. He lifts his middle finger to considerable institutions and monuments from about the earth, which include the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Reichstag in Berlin, and the White Household in Washington D.C. The collection mimics tourists’ shots and invitations viewers to question their acceptance of government authority.
When the police questioned Ai about this specific picture in 2011, the artist claimed he was rejecting “feudalism,” noting the gate had been developed by a Ming Emperor. However, Ai’s single finger also represents a theme from recent background that his interrogators could not speak about. It mimics the graphic of “tank man”—one of the killed protestors from 1989 who was famously photographed facing a line of tanks.
Ton of Tea, 2008
For Ton of Tea, Ai compressed a ton of classic pu’er tea leaves into the space of one particular cubic meter. In China, tea is even now compressed into cubes, while much lesser in scale. Ai’s sculpture enlarges an each day domestic item to create a form of a minimalist structure that seems like it could be designed of metallic. By picking out tea as his material—China’s oldest export—Ai references globalization, whilst the modern-day kind of the dice calls interest to the potential and the increasing impact of Western tradition.
Straight is Ai’s poignant reaction to the Sichuan earthquake of 2008. The devastating function remaining 90,000 people today lifeless or missing, and regrettably, above 5,000 kids have been killed when poorly created college structures collapsed on top rated of them. The properties had been held up by steel rods that twisted and bent all through the earthquake. Ai—a self-taught architect—was outraged to discover that the children’s fatalities could have been prevented with greater constructions. He needed the government to choose responsibility.
Ai collected the damaged metal bars from the earthquake web page and started making a memorial artwork. He commissioned metalworkers to straighten the bars so that they seemed as they did just before the earthquake. Ai then arranged the thousands of particular person pieces—each of which represented a everyday living lost—into a wave-like sample that resembles the oscillations in an earthquake on a seismograph. It took Ai four several years to finish this monumental floor sculpture that measures nearly 40 ft very long and 20 ft large and weighs 200 tons.
Sunflower Seeds, 2011
In 2011, 100 million faux sunflowers seeds have been poured into the enormous Turbine Hall at Tate Modern day. Just about every one of a kind piece was handmade from porcelain in Jingdezhen, the Chinese city which after developed imperial porcelain for over 1,000 a long time. It took 1,600 artisans above two many years to make the seeds. Each individual one was sculpted out of the kaolin clay from community mountains, hand-painted, and then fired at 1,300 levels. Sunflower Seeds invitations queries about the present-day mass production techniques in China. Numerous items are continue to designed by hand because devices are expensive and human labor is low-priced.
Although the seeds ended up on display in London, Ai was arrested and detained with no clarification by the Chinese authorities.
On Sunday, April 3, 2011, Ai was arrested at Beijing airport and illegally detained at a secret place for 81 times. He was watched over 24 hours a working day by two guards who have been forbidden to talk with him. For S.A.C.R.E.D, Ai recreated every detail of his mobile with 6 dioramas: Supper, Accusers, Cleaning, Ritual, Entropy, and Question.
By home windows in the steel façade of every shoulder-height “room,” viewers could peer into each scene—all of which have been designed in 50 % the real measurement of the real mobile place. Ai populated the areas with fiberglass figures of himself and the two guards, revealing their routines. The operate presents a impressive insight into how grim and claustrophobic the detention practical experience was. The dioramas clearly show how the guards stood close by Ai although he slept, ate, showered, and utilized the bathroom, all the whilst leaving small to no area for particular area.