Ai Weiwei (b. 1957) is China’s most well-known contemporary artist. His work offers poignant criticism of government abuse and authoritarian practices through installation, sculpture, video, and porcelain. Following his father’s political exile, Weiwei left his native Beijing for the remote Xinjiang region, where he lived under harsh conditions until 1976. In 1978 he attended the Beijing Film Academy and relocated to the United States, where he studied at Parsons School of Design in New York.
As an artist, Weiwei has been a vocal critic of the sociopolitical system in China, in particular the government’s stance on democracy and human rights. He has investigated government corruption and cover-ups, such as the scandal connected to the Sichuan Earthquake. His installations Sichuan Earthquake Names Project (2009) and Remembering (2009) commemorated the thousands of victims killed during the cataclysm, while denouncing the authorities’ inadequate response and irresponsible building practices. As a result, the artist experienced censorship from the government, which culminated in Weiwei being arrested for “economic crimes,” a charge widely thought to be politically motivated. He documented his 81 days of incarceration in S.A.C.R.E.D (2013), a series of dioramas presented at the Venice Biennale. Weiwei also explores the relationship between his country’s imperial tradition and the recent phase of modernization through the manipulation of Chinese cultural artifacts.
Weiwei received numerous awards and accolades, including the Chinese Contemporary Art Award, the Skowhegan Medal, and the Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent from the Human Rights Foundation. His work was exhibited at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo; Tate Modern in London, the Taipei Fine Art Museum in Taipei; the Asia Society in New York; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C.; and the Indianapolis Museum of Art. After receiving permission to leave China in 2015, Weiwei moved with his family to Europe, where he currently resides.