Introducing Ai Weiwei

His influences

Ai Weiwei grew up in exiled conditions due to his father’s denunciation that was caused by him defending a political activist during the Cultural Revolution. Therefore he knows what the life of a refugee looks like. After his short studies in the US, living in a country where the more opinions and statements you have the better, he refused to overlook the situation. He said that as a child by overlooking these mistreatments it affects your education and the changes of getting a job is almost impossible. He is also a firm believer that pretending to not know about a crime makes you part of the crime. 

"Ai Weiwei's Sunflower Seeds, Tate Modern", Mike Peel

Sunflower Seeds

An art installation made in 2008. It was first exhibited in Tate Modern Art Gallery in London. Since then smaller amounts of the seeds were featured in 12 exhibitions from 2009 - 2013 all over the world. The installation consists of 100 million sunflower seed husks which were hand-made from porcelain each being made to look different. Sunflower seeds were the theme chairman Mao used during the Cultural revolution. He referred to himself as the sun and the people of China as sunflowers. During that time personal freedom has been taken away from individuals and sunflower seeds were shared between families as a gesture of compassion and friendship. From afar it symbolises the vastness of China where one seed is lost among the others censored by Communist Party of China but when standing together they are able to fight it.

Dropping a Han Dynasty urn

Ai became a collector of Chinese traditional heritage that chairman Mao tried to get rid of. In this specific work ,made in 1995, he includes a “ cultural readymade”. It captures Ai dropping a 2 000 year-old ceremonial urn. The urn was considered symbolic and a heritage. The Han dynasty is known as the defining period in the history of Chinese civilisation and by breaking the urn it was perceived as throwing away the inheritance of Chinese cultural meaning.

“Chairman Mao used to tell us that we can only build a new world if we destroy the old one.”


90 tons of steel reinforcing bars that were damaged in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake were used in Ai’s 2008 installation. For this installation Ai designed it for it to have a rolling effect on the surface. But when looked at from the side it looked like a Richter scale graph of an earthquake. Ai reused the rods that the collapsed schools were built with and had them straightened by hand before creating the installation. This work served as a memorial and was also directed to criticise the Chinese government by not constructing safe enough schools given the fact that they were built on fault lines.

His contribution to society

Ai Weiwei is the most famous Chinese living artist of the 21st century. He as a political activist is obviously very outspoken about his thoughts on the Chinese government. With his art he manages to call attention to human rights violations that are happening in his home country where free speech isn’t viewed as a right and that is the thematic concept for most of his works. Ai’s dramatic artworks draw attention to the big difference between the ideal and the real Chinese society.


My reason

I first heard his name a few years ago when my parents saw news about him having problems with the Chinese government and then they ended up discussing his situation. Back then I just wasn’t interested enough to find out more about his work. After being assigned to research about his work Remembering, I found the message behind the piece very powerful. So when we were given the assignment for our final presentation I was very conflicted about whom I should pick because I wanted to research about a person I would feel an emotional connection with. 

Ai Weiwei's life story is very similar to my dad’s which instantly felt right. As  already mentioned he grew up as a refugee due to a punishment which was way worse than it had to be. My grandfather was tortured during the Vietnam war when my dad was little which obviously scarred him and the whole family. Therefore my dad decided to get not only one but three college diplomas (Ing., MBA, LL.D) to somehow prove his and his family's worth. Now outside of his job he helps Vietnamese people in the Czech Republic who are unfairly threatened by the government for free. Ai Weiwei also brings awareness to unfair actions and helps people to speak out.

Monicka H.

April 30, 2021

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