Ai Weiwei (Contemporary Chinese Artist)

Ai Weiwei is a well known activist and artist who lives currently in China. (Last time I checked, the Chinese government had revoked his passport.) One of the art projects he is most well known for is his destruction of ancient Chinese cultural artifacts. The most famous of these works is a photo series of Ai Weiwei dropping an urn from the Han dynasty that was thousands of years old. This is considered a crime in China as it is illegal to destroy cultural artifacts over there. Many were outraged by this willful destruction of an ancient artifact. In response to this Ai Weiwei said, that ancient ceramics such as the Han dynasty urn, “was industry then and is industry now” (translation). Basically, it appears he doesn’t think that time alone makes something valuable. If it wasn’t valuable then, then it isn’t worth getting upset over now. It has been said (perhaps by Ai Weiwei himself), that his photo series is actually more valuable than the urn itself was. It sold for something like 50,000 pounds.  He uses the destruction of the artifacts as a political criticism of China. I think it can also be seen as a statement against the image of China and the ability for these artifacts (and the image) to be marketed to the rest of the world. Ai Wei Wei has been very concerned with the way that China presents itself to the rest of the world in their media. For example, when an earthquake killed a couple thousand children and it was suspected that the cause was shoddy construction on the part of the government, they refused to publish the names of those who died. Ai Weiwei started an art project that collected the names of all the victims and posted them on his website.Where media is censured to such an extent, doing that type of project can be very dangerous. When the Olympics took place in China, Ai Weiwei was asked to create a large art piece to be displayed at the games. He agreed but later spoke out against the Chinese Olympics, citing that the image they showed to the rest of the world was not the real China, only what the Chinese wanted to be seen as. People were pushed out of their neighborhoods for the games barring the regular community from having any involvement with the event. Basically, people were displaced from their homes for the sake of China’s image. Of course, I don’t know anything about this personally. I have never been to China and I do not ever watch the Olympics. This is all things that I have seen and heard about Ai Weiwei and his political messages and his methods for expressing them. On Monday when it was mentioned that China has thousands of these artifacts and that it was easy to buy them illegally off the black market, it made me think of Ai Weiwei and his outright destruction of them. Is it alright that Ai Weiwei destroyed ancient artifacts for modern art? Or is it “an act of self-indulgent barbarism, akin to book burning”? Is it better or worse than selling artifacts on the black market?

Here is an article on the exhibit. It’s where all my quotes came from. It also includes pictures of the art piece itself. Personally, I am a fan of his and I definitely think he is worth checking out.