“Ai Weiwei: Without Fear or Favour, a BBC Documentary”
by Maria Popova
July 8, 2011
Creative visionary, political activist and post-modern Renaissance man Ai Weiwei is China’s most widely known and politically vocal contemporary artist. His now-legendary Sunflower Seeds installation for the Tate Modern in October 2010, which took 2.5 years and 1,600 Chinese artisans to produce 100 million hand-crafted sunflower seeds from the finest Chinese porcelain, offered powerful commentary on consumerism, Chinese industry, human rights and collective labor. In February 2011, a 220-pound pile of the seeds sold for $559,394 at Sotheby’s in London. On 3 April, 2011, Ai Weiwei was detained under harsh conditions for over two months without any official charges being filed, on allegations of “economic crimes.”
On June 22 2011, following a large and sustained outcry by international human rights organizations and prolific Western media coverage, the Chinese government released Ai Weiwei on bail, under a number of conditions. But the controversy surrounding his work and the provocative political questions raised by his arrest remain an important part of the global dialogue on art, activism and freedom of speech.
He uses the publicity he gets in a very knowing way, and he uses exhibitions and projects, like the Bird’s Nest stadium, as a platform to be visible and to be able to turn them against themselves. And that’s extremely interesting, and a very sophisticated way of being an artist.”
This fascinating hour-long documentary titled ‘Ai Weiwei: Without Fear or Favour,’ released by BBC One’s Imagine program earlier this year and recorded shortly prior to Ai Weiwei’s arrest, helps contextualize his work, its cultural significance and its implicit political tensions. Ironically, the film — which deals with issues of openness, censorship and accessibility — is not viewable outside the U.K. thanks to BBC’s restrictive digital media policies, but it’s available on YouTube in its entirety, at least for the time being, thanks to what seems to be Ai Weiwei’s own Chinese YouTube account. Enjoy.
Ai Weiwei is, to my mind, the most significant Chinese artist we are aware of in the West. He’s articulate, he’s passionate, he goes to the edge, he’s unafraid of criticizing the politics and the situation in his own country, nor indeed is he afraid of criticizing Western capitalism.”
For more on Ai Weiwei, his work and convictions, look no further than the excellent Ai Weiwei’s Blog: Writings, Interviews, and Digital Rants, 2006-2009, culled from the salvaged archive of the artist’s blog, which was taken down by the Chinese authorities in 2009. Courageous, honest and effusively eloquent, Ai Weiwei’s writing offers a rare lens on the mental and physical state of present-day China, the role of contemporary art in politics, and the role of the artist as an agent of change: