The other week I had the joy of doing two of my favourite things – going to an Art exhibition and eating Mexican food- with my dad who also loves the same! The Art was at Royal Academy of Arts and the food was at Wahaca, Piccadilly (a great restaurant with street food and bigger food, definitely recommend).
I went to the Royal Academy to see the works of Ai Weiwei, an incredible visual artist who I have been a fan of for a long time.
About Wei Wei
- Ai Weiwei is a Chinese contemporary artist and activist.
- His early life was spent living on a labour camp with his family and thousands of other free thinking intellectuals during the government led Anti-Rightest movement. The family returned to Beijing after twenty years when Chairman Mao died and from that came a brief state of relaxation.
- In 1978 Ai entered the Beijing Film Academy and studied animation.
- When state censorship returned in 1981, Wei Wei sought freedom of expression abroad, travelling around the US and settling in New York for 10 years.
- On hearing news that his dad was ill, Ai returned to Beijing to create works exploring his Chinese culture, history, campaigns for free speech and human rights as well as celebrating the poetry of his father Ai Qing.
- Ai started blogging in 2005 and wrote social commentary, openly criticised government policy as well as thoughts on art and architecture. The blog was shut down by Sina in 2009 due to it’s popularity and Weiwei’s outpoken attitude on events such as the Sichuan earthquake and Beijing Olympic games.
- Weiwei collaborated with Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron as artist consultant on the Beijing National Stadium.
- Ten days after the 8.0 magnitude earthquake took place in Sichuan providence May 2008, Ai Weiwei led a team to survey and film post-quake conditions in several disaster zones. Weiwei launched a Citizens Investigation in response to the governments lack of transparency in revealing names of students who lost their lives in the earthquake due to poorly built structures.
- In November 2010 Weiwei was placed under house arrest and his newly built studio (encouraged by a ‘high official’ for Ai to teach architecture) was demolished due to planning permission, he was ‘the only one singled out to have his studio destroyed’.
- In 2011 following his arrest at Beijing airport Ai Weiwei was held for 81 days without any official charges being held.
- Two brilliant documentaries that explain a whole lot more about Ai (which were on Netflix and still may be, that’s how I first found out about Wei Wei) are Without Fear or Favour 2010 and Never Sorry 2012.
- Ai Wewie does now have his own artist studio in Bejing (hooray) he shares it with 26 cats!
After four years of being banned from leaving China, the Beijing authorities returned Ai Weiwei’s passport, giving him freedom, peace and a pass to travel overseas.
Wei’s work has been widely exhibited around the world, this exhibition at Royal Academy London is Ai Wei Wei’s first major survey in the UK.
And what a treat it is too, to be surrounded by Ai Weiwei’s incredible art for a day!
There is so much that can been taken from Weiwei’s art, meaning on so many levels and I don’t mean just from an ‘art student perspective’ I mean any person whether they are a fan of his work, like art, have a limited knowledge of art can get something from seeing it, develop an interest and be encouraged and inspired in some way. In his freedom of expression, traditional values and new movements.
“Liberty is about our rights to question everything” – Ai Wei Wei
I really admire his spirit and way of showing feelings and experiences through creative form. His passion for ‘truth to power’ shares his never deterring spirit.
A piece I really liked were these Crabs, all 3,000 of them piled up in a corner as if plastic toys. When of course in true Weiwei style these are individually hand made from porcelain. Crabs (He Xie) mean harmony and there are other themes; they were eaten at a feast that marked the beginning and end of Ai Weiwei’s new studio that was ordered to be torn down by authorities and representmass production, the need to look closer and see what is there – a creation, harmony.
Ai Weiwei uses marble a lot in his works, I can’t remember the or find the exact representation of why but there is meaning that involves Chinese heritage and materials as well as it being cold and brittle. Despite that, this piece made up of 770 marble hexagons and grass blades is a breath of fresh air as when I was viewing it, I got the sense of – there is so much life here!
The words ‘The grass will always grow again’ across my audio guide along with the description of the grass blades being like hands reaching up, fitted perfectly alongside my first thought.
There is another twist to this piece that it also tells a story of Wei’s trip to the park with his son in a stroller and him snatching the sd card of an onlooker taking photos of them, telling us ‘some people are only powerful because they violate’. The marble cameras nearby show his experience of being monitored all the time by Chinese officials they are ‘powerful but useless’.
This piece breeds love, life and resilience!
“In art you have to transform your feelings into something which has clear language and story clearly told. You cannot force people to think and feel the same way but you have responsibility to make sure your language is clear” – Ai Weiwei
The picture above shows a peep hole (one of many) in a recreation of what life was like during the 81 days of Ai Weiwei’s incarceration. Through the audio guide Weiwei told of how each part of the day was broken down, two soldiers were 2 feet away at all times, incredibly through the hell it must have been, he spelt sacred, each letter standing for something.
S A C R E D
It’s as if through everything he kept faith that his life is sacred no matter what, it was worth something and there was purpose. It’s hard to comprehend from his arrest, as it was unclear if he would ever be free- but in his mind he may of had some peace and clarity of acceptance, perhaps knowing he would be free in physical form eventually.
I will finish with his words:
“The Art will always win, anything can happen to me, but the art will always stay”