Chinese Artist Ai Weiwei Courts Controversy on All Fronts

ai wei photo

Photo: Clifford Coonan

Ai Weiwei is the brave and controversial Chinese artist who has been running into trouble on all fronts lately. Best known in the West for his part in the iconic Bird's Nest Stadium at the Chinese Olympics, he has been under pressure from that government because he is so outspoken on behalf of freedom of speech.

Last month his exhibition at the Tate Modern was shut down for "health and safety" reasons. It consisted of 100M hand-painted porcelain sunflower seeds in the great Turbine Hall of the building.

tate seeds photo

Photo: Arrested Motion

The seeds were hand crafted and hand painted by artists in China. Art lovers could walk all over them and hear the crackle and feel them moving. However they gave off a dust when moved which it was thought could be hazardous to the employees' health. Now they can only be viewed from above.

During the Cultural Revolution, propaganda images showed Chairman Mao as the sun and the mass of people as sunflowers turning towards him. They are a popular snack. But they have another meaning for the artist: during the Cultural Revolution people were so poor that often all they had to eat was sunflower seeds which they carried in their pockets and shared with friends. "The seed is a household object but at the same time it is a revolutionary symbol," Mr Ai has said of this work.

studio wei photo

Photo: The Telegraph

To make matters worse, the local authorities in Shanghai have now demanded that he demolish his new £750,000 studio. It was built with their permission and encouragement to promote the city and now he is being ordered to knock it down. The artist suspects that it has to do with his high profile campaigns that have angered the government lately.

But nothing stops him: this weekend he is throwing an open party, via Twitter, "to celebrate its life and death" of the studio. He will be serving 10,000 river crabs, a local delicacy and a play on the current political buzzword for "harmony."

ai tee photo

Photo: desartistes

Or you can buy the tee-shirt. He created them for Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) as a fund raiser. Last year he underwent brain surgery after being beaten by police because he gave evidence on behalf of another activist. These 3 styles relate to his beating and the surgery. The one on the left is a scan of his hemorrhaging brain.

November 6, 2010: Ai Weiwei has been put under house arrest in Beijing. He says the authorities want to prevent him holding his party to mark the forced demolition of his new Shanghai studio.

More on Ai Weiwei
Bamboo in Chinese Art
Ai Weiwei Artwork

Related Content on