“My definition of art has always been the same. It is about freedom of expression, a new way of communication. It is never about exhibiting in museums or about hanging it on the wall. Art should live in the heart of the people. Ordinary people should have the same ability to understand art as anybody else. I don’t think art is elite or mysterious. I don’t think anybody can separate art from politics. The intention to separate art from politics is itself a very political intention,” Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei (b. 1957) told Der Spiegel in 2011.
Ai Weiwei rose to global prominence in 2011 Chinese authorities arrested him at the Beijing Capital International Airport, although no official charges were ever filed. He was placed under 24-hour supervision, accompanied by two guards who never left his side, then released after 81 days. It was a very different outcome from that of his father, the poet Ai Qing, who spoke out against the government in 1957. The whole family was exiled to a labor camp when Ai Weiwei was just one year old, then transferred to the remote province of Xinjiang, where he was forced to perform five years of physically demanding work in his 60s.
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Photo: Incoming refugee boat, Lesbos, Greece. 17 February 2016 © Ai Weiwei Studio.