The news on Saturday that dissident artist Ai Weiwei’s studio in Beijing was being demolished by Chinese authorities without any notice reminded me of visit to the Art Gallery of Ontario I made five years ago to see a stunning display of Ai Weiwei’s work.
Ai Weiwei has curried criticism from Chinese authorities with exhibits like this snake he made with school bags to commerate the children killed in the Sichuan earthquake because of shoddy construction of their schools. The Chinese government refused to investigate or release the names of the children who had died so Ai Weiwei launched a citizen’s investigation project to compile a list of the victims. They were on a paper covering an entire wall in the exhibit I saw.
These Han Dynasty Pots are more than 2000 years old. By decorating them with bright industrial paint Ai Weiwei reminds viewers of the wholesale destruction of artifacts from China’s past during the Cultural Revolution.
Here he decorates a pot with the Coca Cola logo to show how globalization is changing China, making its history of less value and perhaps hinting at some of the health concerns created in China because of globalization.
Called Brain Inflation this piece shows the x-ray of Ai Weiwei’s head that was taken to determine the physical damage he suffered when he was beaten by Chinese authorities prior to his arrest and imprisonment in 2009.
In this famous photo the artist gives the finger to Beijing’s iconic Forbidden City. Work like this is probably why Ai Weiwei has been living in exile in Germany for the last three years ever since his four years of house arrest in China ended. It may also be why his Shanghai studio was demolished by authories in 2011 and maybe even why his Beijing studio was reduced to rubble last week without any prior notice, although government officials claim it was all just part of a program to get rid of unsafe old buildings in order to make room for new rental properties. Sadly other Chinese artists’ studios were destroyed as well.
What has happened to Ai Weiwei is a good reminder that freedom of artistic expression should never be taken for granted.