Before embracing his intellectual stimulation at the Beijing Film Academy, Ai Weiwei interspersed through 90’s avant-garde books, an independent design firm, and furnished with multitudinous bold artworks which led him to orchestrate art as a mediating free speech about his authoritarian distress from China.  

Weiwei’s deliberate depiction of his subversive ideas in contemporary architectural and sculptural installations coupled with his political outspokenness echoes the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal for Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.

Exiled from Beijing after being accused of right-wing ideologies by communist officials, Weiwei developed a revolutionary artistic voice to irenically demolish the deep-rooted political defects in the country through the medium of films, documentaries, and art installations.

The artist Ai Weiwei and his father, Ai Qing, in 1958. Image Courtesy of Ai Wei Wei

While his father Ai Qing made an upstream trudge against injustice through his poems, Weiwei resorted to making an uproar through this art. In 2011, Weiwei was held captive for over 80 days by the Chinese Communist Party for being suspected of “inciting the subversion of state power.” The act catalyzed his vision to form an ideal humane society where every individual is an active member of the community.

After publicly stripping the government propaganda through his blog, Weiwei rose to fame from the microscopic radar of criticism to full-pledged distaste of the downtrodden authority state. In his memoir, 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows: A Memoir (2021), Weiwei surmises his struggles with the state and the genesis of his subversive art. Weiwei recollects his stories from his political detention with his father to leave a legacy for his son.

Sunflower Seeds, 2010, Ai Weiwei. Installation view at HAM, 2015. Image courtesy of Ai Weiwei

Curated by 1,600 Chinese artisans, Sunflower Seeds, 2010, showcased in London’s Tate Museum, was a conical installation of 100 million hand-painted porcelain sunflower seed husks as a tribute to the source of food under the famines of Mao, and the use of porcelain alluded to the Imperial capital of China, Jingdezhen, and the figure 100 million is an amalgamation of Beijing’s population and associations of the individual, mass production and craftsmanship.

Law of the Journey, 2017, Ai Weiwei. Installation view at HAM, 2015. Image courtesy of Maija Toivanen

Law of the Journey is a  multi-faceted delineation of the grotesque human tragedy intermingled with Weiwei’s radical moral concern. The title alludes to Walter Benjamin’s reading of Franz Kafka’s law of the journey (das Gesetz der Fahrt) as “a route of unexpected reversals and distortions that derange casual connections between origins and destinations, wishes and fulfillments, annunciation of messages and their reception.”

Water Lilies #1, Ai Weiwei. Recreation of Water Lillies, 1919 Claude Monet, using Lego bricks. Image courtesy of Ela Bialkowska/OKNO studio

In Water Lillies #1, recreating the famous impressionist's renowned Water Lilies, 1919, Weiwei left a personal memento in the art piece, the door of his desert childhood home by weaving human consciousness with memorializing the experiences of his and his father's turmoil during the exile.

Barring his profound artworks, Weiwei’s filmography is undeniably adept at acknowledging societal issues.

Showcased at the Venice Film Festival, Human Flow, Weiwei interviewed more than 600 refugees, activists, and politicians to depict a compelling narrative of the humanitarian crisis of the people affected by adversity. The global refugee crisis was starkly highlighted with over 900 hours of footage shot across 23 nations and 40 of the world’s largest refugee camps.

Moreover, Weiwei is set to release a graphic memoir, Zodiac A Graphic Memoir, by Elettra Stamboulis and illustrated by Gianluca Costantino, the memoir depicts Weiwei's life from growing up and venturing into his stellar art career.

Weiwei continues to create art around personal and political freedom and stands up on behalf of the marginalized voices all over the world.

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