The Awe-Inspiring Ai Weiwei

I am not very up to date with the art world but last week I watched  “Who’s Afraid of Ai Weiwei?” a Frontline piece about the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei and I  fell in love. Through his art and life (which are one and the same), he is pushing the boundaries of China’s Communist society.

Map of China

Colored Vases

Colored Vases

(You can find more images and explanations of Ai Weiwei’s work on the Frontline website.)

Ai Weiwei’s work is powerful — “Map of China” is made of wood from demolished temples and “Colored Vases” are neolithic vases dipped in industrial paint. However, it’s how he lives his life and has turned every act into a piece of art and resistance to the Chinese government that is truly inspiring.

After the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, the Chinese government refused to release the names of the students killed in it. Ai Weiwei launched a campaign to collect the names of as many of the student victims as possible. With the help of volunteers, he was able to uncover the names of over 5,200 student victims. When he returned to Sichuan for the one-year anniversary of the earthquake, he was beaten and detained by local police. As he was escorted by the police out of his hotel, he snapped a picture of himself beaten, surrounded by police in an elevator and posted it to Twitter. He later posted images of himself in the hospital recovering from the beating — including one of him with his middle finger sticking straight up. It’s acts like these that are so bold and overtly resistant that are just awe-inspiring.

Sadly, over the weekend the New York Times reported that Ai Weiwei was detained by Chinese authorities . Reasons behind being taken into custody and current whereabouts are unknown.

To learn more about Ai Weiwei and his work, check out the Frontline episode Who’s Afraid of Ai Weiwei, the New Yorker profile It’s Not Beautiful, and Ai Weiwei’s website.