Ai Weiwei: Without Fear or Favor

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A few months ago, I wrote about the impending theatrical release of Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry,  a documentary about an artist and activist who has a truly distinctive (and loud) voice. Weiwei isn’t just an artist, he is a symbol of what it means to seek out and embrace freedom in every possible way. Often misunderstood and scrutinized by the powers that be, his struggle to be heard is one of immense courage and determination. Alison Klayman’s groundbreaking film digs into his plight and gives a reason to believe in the impossible.

Never Sorry never went into wide release, so I am thrilled that it is coming out on DVD today. To celebrate its release, I though I’d share another documentary I found on youtube via the BBC. With meticulous detail, Without Fear or Favor tracks the events of Weiwei’s life that shaped his perspective as an artist in multiple mediums (pottery, photography, sculpture, architecture, etc). His attention to the constructs and manifestations of liberty are better understood when his father’s banishment during the Cultural Revolution and his life in New York are taken into account.

Several of Weiwi’s works are shown along with interpretations on how and why he created them. Each piece is a stunning representation of WeiWei’s point of view that includes everything from fusing the past with the present, revolution, individuality, and liberty. In particular, the documentary takes a closer look at how and why the sunflower seed exhibit was created for the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern. This amazing installation took the world by storm and I can personally vouch for its power, (see Seeds to Ponder).

Watch intently or have it going in the background. Either way Weiwei will speak to your muse.

Still not convinced? Check out the trailer for Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry and soak up the inspiration :

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry is available now on Amazon.com

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Stay inspired and be free.

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c.b.w. 2012

Seeds to Ponder

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Sunflower Seeds by Ai Weiwei is a profound work of art in both its simplicity and awe inspiring scope.  At first glance, it looks like a pile of sunflower seed husks, but upon closer inspection the incredible reality of this piece becomes apparent.  Each seed is handcrafted from porcelain and hand-painted.  No two are alike and more than 100 million were created for the initial exhibition that covered the the Turbine Hall at The Tate Modern.

"Sunflower Seeds" by Ai Weiwei, Original Exhibition in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern, (Photo Source: Wikipedia Commons)

During the initial run of the exhibition, (October 2009 – May 2010), people were encouraged to interact with the installation by walking through, sitting or even lying down amid the seeds, but that was short lived as soon as health, safety, and preservation concerns caused it to be roped off.  I’m a little jealous of those who were able to tread through the seeds!

In 2011, the Tate put 8 million of the original seeds on display in response to Weiwei’s detainment by the Chinese government and subsequent disappearance¹.  The display, which represents about 1/10 of the original installation, sits in a large pile in an exhibition room on the third floor. While significantly smaller than the original, the intent and deeper meaning of Weiwei’s work has not been lost.

"Sunflower Seeds" by Ai Weiwei, Tate Museum, London, June 2011, c.b.w.

While open to interpretation on many levels, the intent of Sunflower Seeds reaches into a dark chapter of Chinese history and the human spirit.  During the Cultural Revolution, (a particularly brutal era in history where people lost basic human rights and were stripped of cultural traditions), Mao Zedong launched a massive propaganda campaign where in some instances he depicted himself as the sun and the people as sunflowers who turn their heads to follow him.  However, the artist sees sunflower seeds as a traditional food shared among friends in China and is therefore a symbol of friendship and compassion.  This duality of symbolism creates an interesting insight into the human spirit.  Even in times of strife and struggle, kindness and goodwill continue to survive.

In addition,  Weiwei’s installation offers social commentary on today’s society.  The Tate poses several questions to consider while viewing the seeds:

  • What does it mean to be an individual in today’s society?
  • Are we insignificant or powerless unless we act together?
  • What do our increasing desires, materialism and number mean for society, the environment and the future?

I had the pleasure of spending some time with this installation last summer, but even after an hour of regarding the Weiwei’s work and contemplating these questions I am no closer to answering them.  Though, I am reminded of a favorite quote, which sums up my general impression of the piece:

What happens to people who spend their lives afraid to voice their opinions? They stop thinking, most likely.

– Ivan Klíma

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¹He was released in June 2011, but remains under scrutiny.

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Sources: 

Tate Modern Exhibition Pages

Ai Weiwei on Wikipedia

The Guardian – Detained Artist Weiwei Remembered . . .

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c.b. 2012