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Weiwei Ai (艾未未)

architect , artist

Ai Weiwei is a Chinese contemporary artist, active in sculpture, installation, architecture, curating, photography, film, and social, political and cultural criticism.


Ai Weiwei has always been a political artist. His political activism has its roots in a turbulent childhood. Born in Beijing, Ai grew up in an artistic family. His father, Ai Qing, was one of China's most important poets. Yet shortly after Ai's birth, the communist government under Mao Zedong accused his father of supporting capitalism, and the entire family was exiled to a labor camp in Manchuria. Ai's childhood experiences in the camp helped ignite in him a desire for political change.


During Weiwei's student days, the Chinese economy began incorporating some of the very capitalist ideas for which Ai Qing was denounced. China also began relaxing the cultural restrictions imposed on its people under Mao. Ai was among the first generation of Chinese artists to take advantage of this increased openness. While studying at the Beijing Film Academy in the late seventies, he became part of a group called the "Stars." This group rejected the typical Chinese art of the day, with its bland realism and scenes of obedient socialist workers. Instead, the Stars made art that incorporated Cubism, Surrealism, and other Western styles that had been banned in China. They first exhibited their works in 1979, putting together a makeshift outdoor exhibition in Beijing and openly pushing for greater cultural freedom in their country. One of Ai's artworks from this year, a black-and- white drawing called Forest, depicts a dark forest scene using expressionist techniques.


When China began relaxing the travel restrictions it had imposed on its citizens under Mao. Ai was able to move to New York City in the early eighties and lived there for more than a decade. While in New York, he continued his studies and refocused his artistic career. Ai began experimenting with conceptual art that tackled social and political issues more directly. When he returned to China in 1993, he brought what he had learned back with him. Ai often explored the awkward blending of capital¬ism, communism, and traditional culture in China.

Ai collaborated with Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron as the artistic consultant on the Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Olympics. As a political activist, he has been highly and openly critical of the Chinese Government's stance on democracy and human rights. He has investigated government corruption and cover-ups, in particular the Sichuan schools corruption scandal following the collapse of so-called "tofu-dreg schools" in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. In 2011, following his arrest at Beijing Capital International Airport on 3 April, he was held for 81 days without any official charges being filed; officials alluded to their allegations of "economic crimes".


  • 2008 Chinese Contemporary Art Awards, Lifetime Achievement.

  • 2009 Gentlemen’s Quarterly Men of the Year 2009, Moral Courage (Germany) ON DUPLICATE KEY UPDATE `description` = VALUES(`description`); The Art Review Power 100, rank 43; International Architecture Awards for Tsai Residence, Anthenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design, Chicago, United States of America

  • 2010 In March 2010, Ai received an Honorary Doctorate Degree from the Faculty of Politics and Social Science, University of Ghent, Belgium.

  • September 2010 he received Das Glas der Vernunft (The Prism of Reason), Kassel Citizen Award, Kassel, Germany.

  • 2011 In December 2011, he was one of four runners-up in Time's Person of the Year award.

  • 2012 Along with Saudi Arabian women's rights activist Manal al-Sharif and Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi, Ai received the inaugural Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent of the Human Rights Foundation on 2 May 2012. In 2012, Ai was also awarded an Honorary Degree from Pratt Institute, honorary fellowship from Royal Institute of British Architects, elected as Foreign Member of Royal Swedish Academy of Arts, and recipient of The International Center of Photography Cornell Capa Award.

  • In 2010, Ai unveiled his Sunflower Seeds exhibit at the Tate Modern museum in London. Millions of porcelain sunflower seeds were placed on the floor of the museum's Turbine Hall. All of the seeds were hand-painted in a single Chinese town—an homage to traditional Chinese craftsmanship. For the first few weeks after the exhibit opened, visitors were allowed to walk across the seeds, as if exploring a vast, new ocean


  • Black Cover Book (1994)

  • White Cover Book (1995)

  • Gray Cover Book (1997).

  • Culture Pot with Coca-Cola Logo

  • All works


Outspoken critics of the Chinese Communist Party. He has demanded democracy in China, criticized government corruption.


Quotations: “Freedom is a powerful thing. Once you’ve experienced it in your heart, no one can take it away from you. Then you can be more powerful than an entire country.” Ai Weiwei


  • Politicians

    Liu Xiaobo