Withstanding criticism, China’s most controversial artist never fails to tell it like it is
Ai Weiwei is an iconic talent from China and one of the world’s most influential artists of our time. As an artist and activist, he treads the line of social controversies in a country known for its privacy and creates thought-provoking pieces that play with the psyche. He expresses his unconventional perceptions through his art, appealing to the ideas in one’s head that are often ignored. To them, Ai Weiwei says, “Come out.”
Born in 1957 in Beijing, Weiwei was greatly influenced by his father, Ai Qing, a well-known Chinese poet. He was always fascinated by the arts which led him to take on many programs and studies such as photography, cinematography, minimalism, conceptual, pop art and architecture. He spent some time in the United States and there he was able to hone his craft. Though he was a jack of all (artsy) trades, he found his passion for turning everyday objects into art. Soon, he was able to build a following and start earning a living. The rest is history.
Ai Weiwei 70m Boat ‘It’s not a refugee crisis, its a humanitarian crisis’ | Gilbert Sopakuwa
Ai Weiwei: Voice for the Voiceless
Art and activism— how brave it is to walk a tightrope with these dualities in each hand. Most of his art tackles issues with social inequity and prejudice. He has recently started advocating for refugee rights, reporting on the conditions that refugees must live in every day, emotionally and physically. He states:
“There is no refugee crisis, only a human crisis. In this time of uncertainty, we need more tolerance, compassion and trust for each other. We are all one.”
Having a foot in both Western and Chinese culture, he feels the undeniable tug of belonging and rebellion. What makes Ai Weiwei so special is his ability to intertwine history into present works in a way that displays the contrast between social concepts and everyday perceptions. He is unafraid to be the voice for the voiceless, going so far as to document his own controversial thoughts on Twitter and urge individuals to proudly speak up against miscarriages of justice.
Not only does he speak through his art, he uses his fame to vocalize various injustices done by the Chinese government. He has been openly critical of the government’s views on human rights and democracy, insisting that corruption and deceit lie in the very essence of the political rule.
Unfortunately, his courage to stand up to opposition ends only in his demise.
Warning: The Truth May Lead to Fear and Anger
In 2011, due to the public condemnation of the government, Ai Weiwei was arrested and beaten by Chinese police. Before arresting him, they made sure to shut down his blog and completely demolish his new studio. What had put the nail in the coffin? Weiwei had investigated an earthquake in Sichuan and publicly accused the government of covering up victims. This did not sit well with authorities. After being battered, he was kept in isolation for 81 days with internal bleeding in his head and without having anybody informed of his incarceration.