Ai Weiwei is a famous Chinese conceptual artist and human rights activist. He spent his early years living in a small rural town on the North Korean border after his father was exiled and accused of being an anti-government poetic artist. Ai was undoubtedly influenced by his childhood and it is amazing that he has become the intellectual artist he is today as he claims the only form of education he had access to growing up was an encyclopaedia.
In 2008 a devastating earthquake struck the Chinese province of Sichuan causing a massive loss of life. Notably around 5000 children where tragically killed as a result of poorly constructed schools (The Art Story 2016) which outraged Ai and prompted him to construct his work ‘Straight.’
Straight is a 40 feet long memorial made of bent steel that was salvaged from the collapsed schools. The work has generated a lot of attention and praise which lead to a significant breakdown between Ai and the Chinese authorities which continues today. Such tensions won’t worry Ai though as he famously quoted that creativity is the ability to “change the status quo, and to seek new potential. Simply put, aside from using one’s imagination – perhaps more importantly – creativity is the power to act”(Weiwei 2011) Moreover he often encourages the west to challenge Chinese injustices and stand up to the government that does not acknowledge the people’s right to freedom of speech. In response to Ai’s activism the Chinese authorities installed surveillance cameras in his house and work studio to track his movements. This lead to Ai creating his stunning marble sculpture named ‘Surveillance Camera’ (The Art Story 2016).
This work represents the way the government intrudes on the citizen’s lives with surveillance and big data. This is a powerful message for the west as well as china as we live in a tech age where governments and big companies are able to exploit and store our online activity and information.
In a time where privacy is a growing issue in our day to day lives and the gap between governments and citizens seems to be growing, Ai’s works are effective in holding the Chinese authorities responsible for their actions and generating attention to these key issues.
Jim Beard, 2016.
The Art Story 2016, Important Art by Weiwei, N/A, viewed 5 November 2016,<http://www.theartstory.org/artist-ai-weiwei-artworks.htm#pnt_6>.
Ai Weiwei 2016, Ai Weiwei, N/A, viewed 5 November 2016,<http://aiweiwei.com/>.
Weiwei, A. 2011, Blogs, Writings, Interviews and Digital Rants, Massachusetts Intsitute of Technology, Cambridge.
Christies Magazine 2015, Ai Weiwei at the Royal Academy, London, viewed 7 November 2016,<http://www.christies.com/features/Ai-Weiwei-at-the-Royal-Academy-6488-1.aspx>.
Sheerin, M. 2015, ‘Ai Weiwei, Straight (2008-2011)’, Blog post, 1 October, viewed 7 November 2016,<http://www.criticismism.com/2015/10/01/ai-weiwei-straight-2008-12/#sthash.hEBRcUjP.dpbs>.