In response to a quote that he was the “Chinese” Andy Warhol, he replied, “No. Andy Warhol is the americanized Ai WeiWei.”
The Smithsonian Hirshorn and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. is presenting a solo exhibition, “Trace at Hirshorn,” a solo project by disruptor, advocate and artist, Ai WeiWei. The exhibition runs from June, 2017-January, 2018. I had no idea when I arrived at the exhibit who WeiWei was. As I strolled from room to room, studying pieces fueled by derision and disdain for the political narrative that the dominant, world media outlets stuff down our throats on a daily basis, I thought how narrow and eclipsed my information about artist, in general, outside of the U.S. is.
After talking with my daughter who is an artist and in the know about art activists and art activism, she encouraged me to discover more about this Chinese artist who created 176 portraits of advocates of free speech, political prisoners, prisoners of conscience and activists from all over the world, with lego bricks. Yes! Lego bricks. Each portrait is hand assembled and laid out on the 700 ft. square floor of the museum.
“Trace” is shaped by Ai’s own experiences: In 2011, he was incarcerated, interrogated and kept under surveillance by the Chinese government for 81 days and then prohibited from traveling abroad until 2015. Since that time, his art has increasingly centered on the themes of freedom of speech and expression. The Hirshhorn hosted Ai’s first U.S. retrospective in 2012, which he was unable to attend.” (http://newsdesk.si.edu/releases/hirshhorn-open-new-ai-weiwei-project). WeiWei’s early life began and was shaped by art activism.
In 1958, when WeiWei was a year old, he and his family were sent to a labor camp in Beidahuang. His father, a poet, was considered subversive. The family would not return to Beijing until 16 years later after the death of Mao Tse Tung, a death that brought the Cultural Revolution to an end.
After studying animation at the Beijing Film Academy, and participating in advant garde art group “Stars,” Ai would spent some time living and studying in the U.S. (1981-1993), in Philadelphia, Berkley, San Francisco, and eventually New York City where he would meet Allen Ginsberg, who had met Ai’s father, poet Ai Qing, in Beijing.
WeiWei’s confrontations with the Chinese government began when he returned to China and launched an investigation into the students who disappeared in the 8.0 magnitude earthquake in Sichuan province, May 12, 2008. WeiWei investigated the structural damages to the schools in which thousands of students had disappeared. He contended that the damage and the deaths were due to substandard constructions of the school campuses. He carried out his own investigation to disclose the names of the students who had perished in the quake. He had already launched a protest platform on
Twitter in 2005, criticizing the Chinese government, speaking on art and architecture for roughly 8 hours daily.
On September 14, 2009, WeiWei was diagnosed with cerebral hemorrhaging in Munich, Germany. Ai said that the hemorrhaging was a result of the beatings he had suffered at the hands of the Chinese police.
On his return to China in November, 2010, he was placed under house arrest. Then on April 3, 2011 was arrested again before boarding a flight to Hong Kong, according to the Chinese government, for spreading pornography.
Amid an international campaign that included artists, activists and human rights groups to free Ai, Chinese officials reluctantly released him on June 22, 2011, after having detained him for over 3 months. After 4 years, WeiWei had his passport returned to him in 2015, and continues to create and advocate on behalf of dissidents, advocates and activists, and now refugees. The documentary, Human Flow, his new project takes an intimate glimpse into the life of refugees. He has resided in Germany since 2015. Please know that this brief essay does not come close to capturing the life of this prolific and outspoken artist. Naturally you can find more about him on the web. And if you are in Instagram, so is he!
Human Flow: official trailer
Films. If you saw and enjoyed Beasts of the Southern Wild directed by Benh Zeitlin, you may want to check if the independent film director’s next project is online. It was released in March, 2017, and independent films are not around too long. Zeitlin is a co-producer, with Viktor Jakovleski directing a documentary about the National Pyrotechnics Festival. If you have ever visited Mexico, you know that it is a country that loves its fireworks. The festival takes place every year in Tultepec, located in south-central Mexico, in honor of San Juan de Dios, patron saint of firework makers. Here is the link to the trailer, Brimstone & Glory And step back!
From writer, producer, director Peter Brat, executive producer Carlos Santana, and Brian Benson, producer, Dolores, debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, January, 2017. Dolores Huerta is co-founder of United Farm Workers of America. We normally associate UFWA with the name of Cesar Chavez. In this documentary Huerta speaks of the marginalization and resistance that she has always confronted, even in her efforts to call attention to the plight of migrant workers. Approaching 90 years-old, Huerta continues to advocate on behalf of the marginalized.