It is not because of my passion for Chinese culture, but there is really no more famous Chinese artist than Ai Weiwei, and there is probably no Chinese artist struggling more than him for greater political and social freedom.
Ai Weiwei is a sculptor, active in installation, curating, architecture, photography, film, and social, political and cultural criticism.
He himself refers to Andy Warhol and Marcel Duchamp as significant models. After spending many years in the United States, he returned to China in 1993 because of his father’s illness, the great poet Ai Quing.
In simple but at the same time permanent acts, he faces the issue of how his own cultural traditions deal with modern and past times.
In other words, he investigates to which extent these traditions can be considered authentic. In order to make way for the new, he believes, destruction is a mandatory step, and the amazing “Sunflower Seeds” embodies this paradox between past and present. I had the fortune to see this masterpiece with my own eyes last May, when my Chinese roommate took me to visit Ai Weiwei’s exhibition, here in Tilburg. I was shocked! How come that such an important figure after his debut in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in 2010 brought his art here? In Tilburg?
These are the nice surprises that life presents you with! But getting back to art, let’s spend a few words on the meaning of this work, and then let’s AI WEIWEI speak for himself. Sunflowers do not only represent food for Chinese people, during Cultural Revolution Mao Tse Dong made the sun his personal symbol, and the whole Chinese population was accordingly compared to these seeds. 1600 workers in Jingdezhen, China’s porcelain capital, spent one year shaping 100 million tiny forms with this material.
No more talk now, take a look at this video! and see how Ai WeiWei in person tests the tolerance of Chinese criticism! (he was jailed in spring 2011).
Author Riccardo Cersosimo