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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.


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.


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.


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.

Cover Image : Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn by Ai Weiwei . Image courtesy of Artnet.

Image 1: Blossom  by Ai Weiwei  Image courtesy of AnOther Mag.

Image 2: Study of Perspective Hong Kong  by Ai Weiwei . Image courtesy of Tumblr.

Image 3: Sunflower Seeds  by Ai Weiwei . Image courtesy of Tate.

Image 4: Remembering by Ai Weiwei . Image courtesy of Khan Academy.

Katerina Pravda contemporary visual artist.jpg

Ai Weiwei was born in Beijing, China in 1957. An outspoken human rights activist, Ai was arrested by Chinese authorities in April 2011 and held incommunicado for three months. Upon his release, he was prohibited from traveling abroad, engaging in public speech, and was subjected to continued government surveillance. Ai’s position as a provocateur and dissident artist informs the tenor and reception of much of his recent work.

He infuses his sculptures, photographs, and public artworks with political conviction and personal poetry, often making use of recognizable and historic Chinese art forms in critical examinations of a host of contemporary Chinese political and social issues. In his sculptural works he often uses reclaimed materials—ancient pottery and wood from destroyed temples—in a conceptual gesture that connects tradition with contemporary social concerns. He also employs sarcasm, juxtaposition, and repetition to reinvigorate the potency and symbolism of traditional images and to reframe the familiar with minimal means. A writer and curator, Ai extends his practice across multiple disciplines and through social media to communicate with a global public and to engage fellow artists with projects on a massive scale.

Ai Weiwei attended the Beijing Film Academy and the Parsons School of Design in New York. He has received an honorary doctorate from the Faculty of Politics and Social Science, University of Ghent, Belgium (2010), as well as many awards, including the Skowhegan Medal (2011) and the Chinese Contemporary Art Award (2008). His work has appeared in major exhibitions at Kunsthaus Bregenz (2011); the Victoria & Albert Museum, London (2011); Asia Society Museum, New York (2011); Tate Modern, London (2010); São Paulo Bienal (2010); Haus der Kunst, Munich (2009); Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (2009); and Documenta XII (2007). Ai Weiwei lives and works in Beijing, China.

@aiww on Twitter


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