Ai Weiwei's parents were protesters, themselves. His father was a poet who earned himself and his wife more than a few years in a labor camp. Ai spent a few years there, as well. He became an artist which did not graduate from the 'acceptable' academy in China and so his art is known as outsider art. It's all inflammatory, all real, and always relevant. The Chinese government passionately hates him and his international stardom. Trying to rein him in only makes his retaliatory acts more daring.
In 2008 he designed "The Birdsnest" stadium structure for the Olympics. It all went downhill from there because he was finally woken up to what kind of protest was necessary to promote change in China. It's been a battle staying alive since then.
This picture below shows the installation art ("Remembering") he created entirely from 9,000 children's backpacks in the wake of the devastating 2008 earthquuake which killed so many thousands. The pictures Ai saw after the incident of backpacks strewn everywhere around these schools haunted him.
"She lived happily for seven years in this world," which was a quote from the parent of one of the victim's mother. This is what the Chinese characters spell out in the installation art.
As another form of protest he and his company compiled a list of every child they could find out about. By April of 2009 they had compiled a list totaling 5,385 verifiable names. After he posted their names online the government ripped his blog down. So he had other people post the names to get the word out!!
Ai is an avid Twitter fanatic. His blog got ripped down a few times by the government so he gave up. I went to the site and sure enough, it's just a blanket page with a link about the government suing him and a few links. But on Twitter he is a chatterbox.
Here he is eating outside a cafe with a dozen anonymous friends who sat down to eat with him. That act alone was defiance on their part. The police showed up and tried to harass him to leave. He didn't. Everyone finished their meals. The police could only watch and glare at them.
The Chinese government finally got tired of his antics and....
Ai was detained at Beijing airport by police when he was trying to board a plane to Hong Kong. Protests and rallies have helped spread the word of what Chinese officials have done.
They held Ai Weiwei for eighty-one days in an undisclosed location and interrogated him about his 'unlawful activities' within his art. They were interested in his publicity interviews and online activities. They detained him under the guise of investigating his company's finances. He was released after admitting to 'tax evasion(which he later lost in court but is refusing to pay out) and put on probation which prohibited him from speaking to reporters, blogging or tweeting, or leaving the city of Beijing.
The sign above is one which was at a protest rally in China at a police station. Sorry about the movie control area graying out a portion of it. It says, "China Set Them Free!" That is a list of the number of writers, lawyers, artists, teachers, and other intellectuals who were all systematically rounded up around the same time as Ai.
The artist reappeared over two months later, shaken, and wouldn't talk to anyone for quite some time. He said that he was out on bail and couldn't access his Twitter account or talk about anything that happened. It didn't stop him for long, though. Within weeks he was back at it.
In 2011 the government demolished his art studio which had just been completed. Ai invited people to an outdoor barbecue to celebrate but he couldn't attend the party himself because he was placed on house arrest. Celebrate what, you ask? Friendship!!! Camaraderie! Harmony! The joy of being alive. Later that day the building they celebrated in was demolished by government workers. The party was the only act of defiance they could really make.
One of his most notable recent works was a short film featuring Ai writing in Chinese characters on a white background and then several people coming to stand before they camera and saying, "Fuck you, motherland," in their native tongue and then walking away from the camera's view. Ai was last. The international art community, along with Human Rights Watch, collectively felt their jaws hit the floor. This was one of his most provocative works. No one could be sure what would happen to him now.
In April of 2012, Ai set up several cameras to monitor him at his house and linked the feed online. His reason was that the Chinese government already had a dozen cameras on him already, 24/7, so what's four more? Forty-six hours after his cameras went live the government demanded he removed them. They received over five million views before being disconnected.
I'd like everyone reading this to pause for a moment to consider the implications here. The government can watch your every move and it's ok. But if you hook up a live feed to the internet and allow the rest of the world to watch you-- it's NOT ok?
I know at this point it's not just an act of defiance on his part, it's for his own personal safety. Still, it is an artist's statement which deserves to be analyzed on a global scale. What would happen if you tried to do the same thing??
And so now we watch and wait to see what happens to this brave man.
Here is a link to his Twitter account. It's in Chinese. Does anyone know how I can translate that whole page to English??