Ai Weiwei (艾未未; born 28 August 1957 in Beijing) is a Chinese Contemporary artist and activist. As a political activist, he has been highly and openly critical of the Chinese Government’s stance on democracy and human rights.
Ai’s father was the Chinese poet Ai Qing(艾青), 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.
From 1981 to 1993, he lived in the United States, mostly in New York City. 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.
In 1993, Ai returned to China after his father became ill.
In 2005, Ai was invited to start blogging by Sina Weibo, the biggest internet platform in China. He posted his first blog on 19 November. For four years, he “turned out a steady stream of scathing social commentary, criticism of government policy, thoughts on art and architecture, and autobiographical writings.” The blog was shut down by Sina on 28 May 2009. Ai then turned to Twitter and wrote prolifically on the platform, claiming at least eight hours online every day. He wrote almost exclusively in Chinese. As of 31 December 2013, Ai has declared that he would stop tweeting but the account remains active in forms of retweets and Instagram posts.
In November 2010, Ai was placed under house arrest by the Chinese police. He said this was to prevent the planned party marking the demolition of his newly built Shanghai studio.
On 3 April 2011, Ai was arrested at Beijing Capital International Airport just before catching a flight to Hong Kong and his studio facilities were searched.
Michael Sheridan of The Times suggested that Ai had offered himself to the authorities on a platter with some of his provocative art, particularly photographs of himself nude with only a toy alpaca hiding his modesty – with a caption『草泥马挡中央』 (“grass mud horse covering the middle”). The term possesses a double meaning in Chinese: one possible interpretation was given by Sheridan as: “Fuck your mother, the party central committee”.
The China Daily subsidiary, the Global Times editorial on 6 April 2011 attacked Ai, saying “Ai Weiwei likes to do something ‘others dare not do.’ He has been close to the red line of Chinese law.
Ai designed the cover for 17 June 2013 issue of Time magazine. The cover story, by Hannah Beech, is “How China Sees the World”. TIME Magazine called it “the most beautiful cover we’ve ever done in our history.”
Ai was ranked 13th in ArtReview’s guide to the 100 most powerful figures in contemporary art: Power 100, 2010.
In December 2011, Ai was one of four runners-up in Time’s Person of the Year award.