The artist, dissident, and provocateur Ai Weiwei has been prohibited from leaving China since last April, when police held him in an isolation cell for 81 days. Passing the time was “impossible,” he told me in an interview last year. “I really wished someone could beat me. Because at least that’s human contact. Then you can see some anger. But to dismiss emotion, to be cut off from any reason, or anger, or fear, psychologically that’s very threatening.”
Since then Ai, who is a Foreign Policy Global Thinker this year, has stayed mostly in his compound in Northeast Beijing, while his fame and his art have traveled the world. For Ai, who has more than 180,000 followers on Twitter, it’s all about “communication,” about being able to speak out.
“My work in the past few years…relates to how to find a way to communicate in a very special circumstance” said Ai in a video he made exclusively for last night’s Global Thinkers gala at the Hirshhorn museum in Washington, which is also currently hosting the first ever North American retrospective of his work.
Watch the video below:
Ai Weiwei, born 18 May 1957, is a Chinese contemporary artist, active in sculpture, installation, architecture, curating, photography, film, and social, political and cultural criticism. Ai collaborated with Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron as the artistic consultant on the Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Olympics. As a political activist, he has been highly and openly critical of the Chinese Government’s stance on democracy and human rights.
He has investigated government corruption and cover-ups, in particular the Sichuan schools corruption scandal following the collapse of so-called “tofu-skin schools” in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. In 2011, following his arrest at Beijing airport on 3 April, he was held for over two months without any official charges being filed; officials alluded to their allegations of “economic crimes” (tax evasion).
In October 2011 ArtReview magazine named Ai number one in their annual Power 100 list. The decision was criticized by the Chinese authorities. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin responded, “China has many artists who have sufficient ability. We feel that a selection that is based purely on a political bias and perspective has violated the objectives of the magazine”.