Ai Wei Wei
Ai Wei Wei, born in 1957, grew up as an exile in Shihezi, Xinjiang, because his father was a poet in the Anti-Rightist Movement in China. Basically, political activism and artistic abilities are in his blood. In 1978, he enrolled in the Bejing Film Academy to study animation, until he moved to New York in 1981 to study at Parsons School of Design. He dropped out of school to make a living off of drawing street portraits, and even became good friends with Allen Ginsberg after they met at a poetry reading. He returned to China in 1993, where his career really took off after he created an experimental art studio, and held his famous art exhibition, Fuck Off. While the name of this art exhibition sounds controversial, it is not where his infamous career took off. In 2008, when a fatal earthquake occurred at a school in Sichuan, leading to thousands of student casualties, Ai Wei Wei took action. He testified for Tan Zuoren, who set up an investigation of the shoddy construction of the school. As a consequence of his participation in this investigation, and after he published a list of 5,885 names of dead students, he was brutally beaten by police. This beating caused him to have a cerebral hemorrhage, or internal bleeding, and consequent brain surgery. This did not stop Ai Wei Wei, however. His art career had only just begun. Just one year after his surgery, Ai Wei Wei was arrested in the Beijing Capital International Airport, due to suspicions about his new art studio. His partners Liu Zhenggang and Zhang Jingsong even disappeared, most likely to to beating and harassment of investigating police officers. Human Rights Activists and Art Museums around the world protested for Ai Wei Wei’s release, and knew that his arrest was solely for the purpose of a warning to Chinese citizens: that no one is immune to punishment for unwanted political activism. Ai’s family were not notified about Ai’s arrest, and the Chinese media attacked him with claims such that he is a “deviant and a plagiarist,” in order to stop protests for his from continuing. This attempt did not work. One protest for Ai Wei Wei’s release was even held in San Diego, at the Museum of Contemporary Art. For two days, volunteers and museum staff held a silent protest with the use of two traditional Chinese Chairs as a symbol of Ai Wei Wei’s piece, called Marble Chair. A petition was also put together by the International Council of Museums, which accumulated more than 90,000 signatures over just a couple of months. In response to protests like these, Chinese authorities lied and told the public Ai Wei Wei was only under house arrest. The public found that this was not true when Ai Wei Wei was finally released from jail in June 2011, after being detained for a total of 81 days. After Ai Wei Wei’s release, the media claimed that the real reason for his arrest was tax evasion, and that he was released for ‘good behavior’. Human Rights Activists around the world, however, know this is not the case, and the Ai Wei Wei was released as the result of of artists and museums around the world fighting for his freedom. Ai Wei Wei’s latest scandal involves LEGOS! His bulk order of legos for an upcoming political project was rejected by the Lego Company, which stated “we refrain — on a global level — from actively engaging in or endorsing the use of Lego bricks in projects or contexts of a political agenda,” (nytimes.com). Ai Wei Wei’s response: He asks all of his admirers and fans for Lego donations! The response has been positive. Ai Wei Wei explains, “I could never have predicted this event, that for days, people would flood in, like a river, to support criticism of big companies who do this kind of censorship and to support freedom of speech.” For Ai Wei Wei, artwork serves as the most important aspect of life: a call for freedom. Despite brutal beatings by police and time in jail, Ai Wei Wei continues to create his artwork to fight for basic human rights in the communist regime of China. For the Chinese government, Ai Wei Wei is a threat. For Chinese citizens and human activists around the world, he is a hero.