Ai Weiwei (born August 28, 1957, Beijing, China) A cultural figure of international renown, Ai Weiwei is an activist, architect, curator, filmmaker, and China's most famous artist.
As an activist, he has been openly critical of the Chinese Government's stance on democracy and human rights. He investigated government corruption and cover-ups, in particular the Sichuan schools corruption scandal following the collapse of "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 charge; officials alluded to allegations of "economic crimes".
Since being allowed to leave China in 2015, he has lived in Berlin, Germany Cambridge, England and the United States, with his family, working and traveling internationally.
Early life and work:
Ai's father was the Chinese poet Ai Qing, who was denounced during the Anti-Rightist Movement. In 1958, the family was sent to a labour camp in Beidahuang, Heilongjiang, when Ai was one year old. They were subsequently exiled to Shihezi, Xinjiang in 1961, where they lived for 16 years. Upon Mao Zedong's death and the end of the Cultural Revolution, the family returned to Beijing in 1976.
In 1978, Ai enrolled in the Beijing Film Academy and studied animation. In 1978, he was one of the founders of the early avant garde art group the "Stars", together with Ma Desheng, Wang Keping, Mao Lizi, Huang Rui, Li Shuang, Ah Cheng and Qu Leilei. The group disbanded in 1983, yet Ai participated in regular Stars group shows, The Stars: Ten Years, 1989 (Hanart Gallery, Hong Kong and Taipei), and a retrospective exhibition in Beijing in 2007: Origin Point (Today Art Museum, Beijing).
Some of Ai's best known works are installations, often tending towards the conceptual and sparking dialogue between the contemporary world and traditional Chinese modes of thought and production. For Sunflower Seeds (2010) at the Tate Modern, he scattered 100 million porcelain "seeds" handpainted by 1,600 Chinese artisans-a commentary on mass consumption and the loss of individuality. His infamous Coca Cola Vase (1994) is a Han Dynasty urn emblazoned with the ubiquitous soft-drink logo. Ai also served as artistic consultant on the design of the "Bird's Nest" stadium for Beijing's 2008 Olympics, and has curated pavilions and museum exhibitions around the globe.
Exile in the United States:
This raincoat has a hole near the waist which is covered with a condom. The work is intended to describe the AIDS crisis as Ai saw it in New York City.
From 1981 to 1993, he lived in the United States. He was among the first generation of students to study abroad following China's reform in 1980, being one of the 161 students to take the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) in 1981. For the first few years, Ai lived in Philadelphia and San Francisco. He studied English at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California, Berkeley. Later, he moved to New York City where he studied briefly at Parsons School of Design. Ai attended the Art Students League of New York from 1983 to 1986, where he studied with Bruce Dorfman, Knox Martin and Richard Pousette-Dart. He later dropped out of school and made a living out of drawing street portraits and working odd jobs. During this period, he gained exposure to the works of Marcel Duchamp, Andy Warhol, and Jasper Johns, and began creating conceptual art by altering readymade objects.
Ai befriended beat poet Allen Ginsberg while living in New York, following a chance meeting at a poetry reading where Ginsberg read out several poems about China. Ginsberg had traveled to China and met with Ai's father, the noted poet Ai Qing, and consequently Ginsberg and Ai became friends.
When he was living in the East Village (from 1983 to 1993), Ai carried a camera with him all the time and would take pictures of his surroundings wherever he was. The resulting collection of photos were later selected and is now known as the New York Photographs. At the same time, Ai became fascinated by blackjack card games and frequented Atlantic City casinos. He is still regarded in gambling circles as a top tier professional blackjack player according to an article published on blackjackchamp.com.
Return to China:
In 1993, Ai returned to China after his father became ill. He helped establish the experimental artists' Beijing East Village and co-published a series of three books about this new generation of artists with Chinese curator Feng Boyi: Black Cover Book (1994), White Cover Book (1995), and Gray Cover Book (1997).
In 1999, Ai moved to Caochangdi, in the northeast of Beijing, and built a studio house - his first architectural project. Due to his interest in architecture, he founded the architecture studio FAKE Design, in 2003. In 2000, he co-curated the art exhibition Fuck Off with curator Feng Boyi in Shanghai, China.
Following his release from prison in 2015, Ai moved to Berlin, where he now maintains a large studio in a former brewery. He lives in the studio and uses it as the base for his international work. In 2019 he announced he would be leaving Berlin, saying that Germany is not an open culture. In September 2019 he moved to live in Cambridge, England.
Ai is married to artist Lu Qing. He has a son born outside their relationship.