Ai Wei Wei. Ideologically Inconvenient Artist.

Ai Wei Wei. Considered “a harsh critic of the government” (Page 2011).


Famous portrait of Ai Wei Wei. Author Unknown. Accessed here.

It has not been uncommon to happen to China’s most well-known cultural figures and creatives. Supposedly evoking the memory of “the Cultural Revolution…the Maoist regime [removed] ideologically inconvenient artists, writers and intellectuals from the scene at will without even any pretense to legal procedures” (Jingsheng 2011) artists like Ai Wei Wei (perhaps most famously) have been incarcerated for so much as propagating ‘unfavorable’ (or anti-politic) ideas within their art forms (Jingsheng 2011).

But within the particularly complex clime of modern China—which brings together a long history of tradition, but also fast technological progression (Jingsheng 2011)—these ‘cultural figures’ are key to the future way of thinking of the more impressionable younger generations. ‘Impressionable’ so much as having the capability to view, have access to, interpret and understand art, and then generate new ideas amongst the ideological and social complexness that is their live’s realities within modern China.

I had the privilege of seeing for myself, the wonderfully captivating work of Ai Wei Wei at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) earlier this year, and learning—from viewing—for myself, the capacity that art and design have to trigger social change, or reflect ideological shifts. Personally, noting Ai Wei Wei’s skill and power to incite a reflection of even my own context, in light of his arts. His work always begins seemingly only for visual and/or tactile pleasure, yet upon further inspection, the work goes much deeper to challenge not only traditional, but also modern aspects of China (and its place in the world), how these intertwine and how they move forward.


The individual painting of Porcelain Seeds. Author Unknown. Available here.

A particular favourite of mine, of Ai Wei Wei’s works is the Sunflower Seed sculpture; “made up of millions of small works, each apparently identical, but actually unique” (TATE 2010) . Each individual sunflower seed is a hand crafted piece of porcelain, “far from being industrially produced, they are the effort of hundreds of skilled hands” (TATE 2010). Ai Wei Wei combines This depth to his work reflects how the younger generation of China must combine the traditional elements of their country’s past—evoked by the porcelain and hand made—in contrast the modern—the ‘en masse’ nature of the seeds, the reflection of the modern prevalence of the ‘Made in China’ status.

Ultimately, all of Ai Wei Wei’s works seek to not only provoke the thought process of the younger generation, but also to reflect it. “The work continues to pose challenging questions: What does it mean to be an individual in today’s society? Are we insignificant or powerless unless we act together? What do our increasing desires, materialism and number mean for society, the environment and the future?” (TATE 2010) Each of these questions can conflict the reality of modern China and the reality of existence in modern China for the younger generations. Not only does China’s political regime generally come under scrutiny through Ai Wei Wei’s work/s, but one’s position towards these.


Jingsheng, W. A Return to Cultural revolution in China? New Perspectives Quarterly, Summer 2011, vol. 28(3), pp.65.

Page, J. 2011. China Admits Artist under investigation. The Wall Street Journal Eastern Edition, pp. 11

TATE Modern. 2010. The Unilever Series: Ai Wei Wei Sunflower Seeds. Accessed November 7. Available at <>

Posted in D: Chinese Contemporary Culture, Uncategorized

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