Many of you may have heard the name Ai WeiWei this summer. For those of you who have not, Ai WeiWei is a Chinese contemporary artist, who works with a wide variety of mediums and whose activism in social, political and cultural criticism landed him in a detention center for 80 days earlier this summer.
As an artist, WeiWei uses a variety of Chinese antiquities in his art work, giving them a new sense of life which scrutinizes the duality of China’s past with its swift transmutation into the future. As a political activist, WeiWei is openly critical of the Chinese Government’s stance on democracy and human rights.
On 3 April, Ai was arrested just before catching a flight to Hong Kong. His studio was searched, and it was announced by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs that Ai was arrested under investigation for alleged economic crimes.
During WeiWei’s detention, the Chinese media portrayed Wei as a ‘deviant and plagiarist’. A political artist who is not afraid to speak his mind and let his voice be heard through his art is often seen to others as a threat, especially in China where “rocking the boat” is frowned upon. Chinese media described WeiWei as “a person who likes to do something ‘others dare not do.’ He likes to push the boundaries and in China, the act of doing so may not be difficult, but the consequences could be.
On 22 June 2011, the Chinese authorities released Ai Weiwei on bail after close to three months’ detention on charges of tax evasion. Although Ai Weiwei was granted bail, he is prohibited from leaving Beijing without permission for one year and has been warned not to make public statements.
Today, Ai WeiWei has been named the most powerful person in the art world according to ArtReview magazine. Some feel that the selection was done out of political prejudice however, it is undeniable that Ai WeiWei has made contributions to the art world which are not only beautiful in their aesthetics but push certain boundaries and cause the viewer to think and put things into context, politically, socially and emotionally.
According to Ai, “It’s proof internationally that the art community is really concerned with my art, with my effort,” he said. “You can sense the power when people really care, identify with the cause. But as a person, I don’t feel powerful.”
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