When I see something clever, inspiring, and socially sensitive I am impressed. When thoughtfulness and genuine care seem to be part of an art work I appreciate the effort the artist has made to share; being open and giving is not a common trait. I speak to my students about investing their head, heart and hands in their work—a very simple idea that is never an easy task.
Ai Weiwei (b.1957) is an artist whose work responds to complex problems of the mind and more importantly, issues deep within his heart. His hands do much of the work but frequently he employs community members to help create his visions. Best known as the artistic consultant for Beijing’s 2008 Olympic stadium, Ai has become a well-known critic of the Chinese government’s policies, specifically regarding human rights and freedom of speech issues. When I think of Ai, I usually think of the quote, “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism”. The love he has for his country and the people of China is obvious (while wagging various fingers at his own government) in every work he creates.
A name is the first and final marker of individual rights, one fixed part of the ever-changing world. A name is the most basic characteristic of our human rights: no matter how poor or how rich, all living people have a name, and it is endowed with good wishes, the expectant blessings of kindness and virtue.
Names of the Student Earthquake Victims Found by the Citizens’ Investigation (and detail) 2008-2011
The wall is filled with the names of over 5,000 children killed (after schools collapsed) as a result of the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan province. The names of the children are read aloud in an audio work titled Remembrance 2010
A room filled with photographs of historical architecture being demolished and land cleared to make way for construction of new, modern buildings in Provisional Landscapes 2002-2008
Like all people, Ai Weiwei is not perfect and mistakes have been made. No one knows when he will be able to leave China to attend an opening of one of his shows. I feel fortunate to have seen some of the works that have left China and are traveling the world. Ai’s work reminds me to remember history, communicate with my heart and make work that can make a positive impact on our collective space.