The values of freedom in art- Ai Weiwei the ceaseless voice for the voiceless.

by Joana Alarcão

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The values of freedom in art- Ai Weiwei the ceaseless voice for the voiceless.

The traditions of a fading society, the roots of ancient history weaving itself with the rich and dynamic imaginary of the contemporary world. In a time when social agitation rises from the pressure of social and environmental injustices, where does art fit in all of this?

Today we have one of the safest societies ever built, although artists like Ai Weiwei, turn a critical eye to the destruction that this so-called safety requires, asking fundamental questions about our rights and responsibilities.

When we examine the conceptual aspect of Weiwei’s practice we are struck with a common understatement, tradition. Although the art of the Chinese artist speaks in a richer voice. It challenges us to consider what we value, why and more importantly what we are accountable for destroying, preserving, or transforming. Works such as Sunflower seeds and Remembering are the embodiment of these concepts, by applying ancient techniques and monumentality he generates a focal resistance against forgetting, advocating for democracy and the unique voices of individuals.

Since the beginning of his career, the artist creates intricate and dramatic installations, sculptures, photographs, films, and performances, pathways to challenge the conventional and rethink cultural heritage. Throughout his conceptual practice, Weiwei explores a continuous thread, a repeating methodology that strives for the symbolic idea of freedom and makes his audience consider the global imbalance of power, mass consumption and individuality.


Blossom , 2014, 888,246 ceramic poppies by Ai Weiwei. Image courtesy of Ai Weiwei

As a result, Weiwei withstands constant Chinese governmental ire, although he claims that these restrictions happen worldwide. “Censorship of artworks is nothing new… It is not only in China and Hong Kong that my works encounter restrictions, but also in mainstream film festivals or exhibitions in the West.” Recently his famous Tiananmen Square photo was removed from the website of Hong Kong’s M+ Museum because of government censorship. In 2018 his studio was razed and in 2011 he was imprisoned for 81 days in a Chinese prison and prohibited from leaving the country. Being an advocate for freedom of expression bears its price, one that the artist confronts unshaken. Synthesizing traditional Chinese materials, assembling ready-mades , and by collecting wood from demolished temples, Weiwei urges the audience to think about the connection between the self in relation to the collective and the importance of having a voice in times of uncertainty. Art is a conversation, a dialect to be heard and considered. The work of Ai Weiwei creates atmospheres that leave its audience wondering, questioning and nostalgic. A clear and critical conversation about social and environmental issues that become the voice of the voiceless.

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The values of freedom in art- Ai Weiwei the ceaseless voice for the voiceless.

The values of freedom in art- Ai Weiwei the ceaseless voice for the voiceless.

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