Chairman Wow!

October 25, 2009

Ai Wei Wei’s Finest Work of Art

Filed under: Uncategorized — Carly J Hallman @ 4:15 pm

ai-weiwei.jpgThere’s a Chinese proverb that notes that, “both jade and men are sharpened by bitter tools.” Ai Wei Wei, a sculptor, designer (he collaborated with architects on the 2008 Olympics Bird’s Nest National Stadium), photographer, and perhaps China’s most famous visual artist, is no stranger to this concept. The work that may wind up Wei Wei’s most important is a piece he never intended on creating– a metaphorical piece of jade created by a man sharpened by the bitter tools of the state.

In mid-September 2009, Wei Wei was treated for internal bleeding and brain trauma in Germany after Chinese secret police allegedly entered his residence and brutally beat him. In his latest gallery show in M√ľnchen, Germany, Ai Wei Wei chose to display rather graphic self-portraits taken with a cellphone camera shortly after undergoing surgery.

What fueled the blows that landed Wei Wei in that hospital bed? In 2008, a massive earthquake struck China’s Sichuan Province. A disproportionate number of schools collapsed in the quake, leaving thousands of children dead and thousands more questions unanswered. The Chinese government has largely ignored the inquiries regarding the school collapses due to inadequate engineering and construction. The shoddy construction has been blamed on corruption– local Sichuan governing bodies probably granted the project bids to the contractors willing to provide the biggest bribes and kick-backs (this is not uncommon practice in China, where guanxi, or use of personal connections, still reigns supreme in business). Well over a year after the quake, the government has not investigated the allegations of corruption nor have they released what most believe to be an accurate death toll. Wei Wei was part of an effort to uncover truth regarding the Sichuan quake– he traveled to Sichuan numerous times (and in 2007, was arrested by police in his Chengdu hotel room) in an attempt to gather the name of every child who died in the quake. At the time that Wei Wei was attacked by police, he had collected and posted on his blog the names of over 5,000 deceased children. Wei Wei’s blog, and the list of names, has since been removed.

In the art world, Wei Wei has long made a career of questioning the establishment– he’s flipped the bird to both Tiananmen Square and the White House, shattered valuable Chinese antiques on film, and refused to visit the Bird’s Nest that he helped design…but with one quick click of his cell phone shutter, Wei Wei sent a clear, critical message to the wider world. In an age when many (including St. Edward’s students) are calling to lessen the human rights pressure the first world places on China, Wei Wei’s photos place a beaten, battered, and bloody human face on an issue whose legitimacy the western world has for too long cheapened, on an issue we simply cannot ignore.

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