This Monday I got the chance to take a snoop round the Ai Weiwei exhibition at the Royal Academy on a textiles trip. I thought I’d share some of my photos from the exhibition and give some background to him for any of those who haven’t come across him or his works. Before you quickly click off thinking ‘urrgh, an artist, cool’, I really do think Ai Weiwei is interesting and his messages are important and thought provoking!
Ai Weiwei is arguably the most recognisable Chinese artist whose outspoken criticism of the Chinese government has caused him to be beaten up by the government, put under house arrest multiple times, secretely detained and forced to live in a cell for over 80 days… just for what he uses his art to do.
Despite the government demolishing his newly built studio and banning his blog, Ai Weiwei remains committed to use his art (comprising many large scale installations) to present the corruption of the state and suppression of human rights such as free speech in China. Currently his home is surrounded by 20 surveillance cameras like the one pictured above, part of his marble collection. Ai Weiwei uses marble – a material associated with China’s imperial past- and turns this material into everyday objects (also featuring a marble pushchair, gas mask and video recorder) to portray moments in his life as well as Chinese society. I particularly liked the marble surveillance camera which really made you visualise the intrusion these would have in your home as well as the controlling nature of them. Ai Wei Wei has also experimented with use of ceramics. Personally, I was drawn to the series of three photos pictured above, depicting him dropping a Han dynasty urn. It is suggested that this piece refers to the destruction of historic buildings and objects in China during the ‘Cultural Revolution’ in 1966 and the pursuit of economic development over preserving China’s historic cities.
I wanted to end on the installation which shocked me the most. The series of installations pictured below are about the 2008 earthquake in the Sichaun province of southwestern China which caused significant loss of life with over five thousand students being killed by the collapse of over 20 schools in the area. Despite being a natural earthquake, the government refused to publish the names of all those who were killed so Ai Weiwei began collecting the names (which are listed on the walls around). On the floor of this exhibition room lies hundreds (most probably thousands) of metal rods which were used in the foundations of the schools. The school buildings collapsing was due to the poor, substandard and hasty construction work notoriously bad in Chinese government buildings as corrupt officials chose personal gain over building materials. Ai Weiwei bought 200 tonnes of these rods which were extremely damaged and bent (up close these rods look way too flimsy to support a building) and reshaped them all in an attempt to make them look like new building materials. This installation was definitely the most shocking and saddening and made me wonder – what other things are they hiding from us?I would certainly reccomend you check out more of Ai Weiwei’s work if you’re interested in political art. I love seeing issues of today’s world presented in art forms and Ai Weiwei’s work gives the rest of the world a glipse into the China they don’t want us to see.