Ai Wei Wei Review

Ai Weiwei : The Royal Academy

The dissident Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei, is showing a politically-charged exhibition of his work at The Royal Academy, London. His works highlighting human rights violations in China have led to his being closely monitored by the authorities, arrested and even hospitalised. His art is very controversial in China, and this exhibition clearly spreads a strong antigovernment message. It’s therefore possibly no coincidence that this exhibition coincided with President Xi’s unpopular visit to Britain last week.

Weiwei combines traditional Chinese craftsmanship, with contemporary symbolism: from a CCTV camera carved in marble, to abstract gravity-defying sculptures crafted from wood using beautiful traditional methods.

Ai Wei Wei Review

Ai Wei Wei Review

This sea of porcelain crabs is called ‘He Xie’, meaning both ‘crab’ and ‘harmonious’. The term is often used in government propaganda, and so Weiwei uses the crabs to ridicule the governments false agendas.

His work is very personal. Over half of his sculptures shout about a personal injustice. His incarceration for 81 days by the Chinese government is illustrated by a series of eight huge black boxes, each with just two peep holes cut in. When you look inside you see an accurate model of Weiwei’s police cell with various scenarios being performed including Weiwei’s questioning, him sleeping and even going to the loo. All of these acts are under the watchful eye of two government officers. Although this is a very literal artwork, I loved the realistic models, impressive attention to detail and the physical act of peeping in on these strikingly private moments.

Ai Wei Wei Review

The view through one of Ai Weiwei’s peep holes.

This exhibition feels very relevant in the current political climate. The increasing refugee crisis in the Middle East, North Africa and Europe is making headlines, and the Human Rights act is high on Britain’s controversial political agenda. My increasing interest in this area is only being exemplified by designing with the charity, CARAS, and witnessing the incredible growth of The Chickpea Sisters! I found the exhibition to be thought-provoking, unexpected, and utterly unconventional. I would absolutely recommend going to this exhibition, whacking on a free.. yes, free… audio tour, and taking two hours to absorb this assault on the senses!

Ai Wei Wei Review

The Chinese authorities tried to cover-up the needless deaths of thousands of school children after an earthquake brought down their poorly constructed schools. Weiwei took it upon himself to find out the facts, and to promote this injustice.

Ai Wei Wei Review

A three-dimensional sculpture made from the (once bent) robars that once held up the collapsed schools.

Ai Wei Wei Review

Bicycles are at the core of Chinese life. This sculpture uses this symbol of working class life to make an excessive, and essentially useless chandelier.