Ai Weiwei – Ai Weiwei at Royal Academy of Arts
One of China’s most recognisable artists, Ai Weiwei is famous for openly disapproving of his country’s government, his criticism evident in his art. A state notorious for its censorship and often violating the common right of the freedom of speech, China finds one of its biggest critics in this artist who, undisturbed by arrests and detentions, stands up and points the finger (quite literally in some of his works) at those holding the power.
A three-dimensional map of China is the first thing to be seen upon entering the exhibition, although it might be hard to recognise it as such at a first glance. Aiming to promote the traditional methods of carpentry that are dying out in this heavily industrialised age, Weiwei’s China is a large-scale piece spread across the floor like a carpet, putting a strong beginning to an exhibition that plays with perceptions, touches on the chords of the heart, asks inconvenient questions and sheds light on truths one might not be ready to see. The next room hosts the Furniture Series, where reimagined traditional pieces of furniture defy gravity, finding their new purposes, separating the space of the room in a new exciting way. Truth is, one of the main themes of the whole exhibition is tradition seen through the prism of the modern age as familiar objects find their new meanings. Be it an ancient Chinese vase painted with the Coca Cola logo on it (a blasphemy that symbolises the destruction of historic buildings and, with that, the altering of collective past) or another traditional Chinese entity as you have never seen it before – one ton of compressed tea in the minimalistic form of a cube.
However, the most emotionally striking rooms are the ones dedicated to the 2008 Sichuan earthquake: Weiwei makes another very literal statement as he uncovers the true reason behind this great loss of life. Further in, there is black and white wallpaper covering the walls of a whole room with only the image of a middle finger repeated on it. Upon entering the next hall – consisting of models of the room the artist was held in – it is easy to understand why he would create such wallpaper. A middle finger pointed at the corrupt, the censors and the suppressors – this is an exhibition that has to be seen by the ones who won’t bend.
Photos: Kim Mihaljevic
Ai Weiwei: Ai Weiwei is at the Royal Academy of Arts from 19th September until 13th December 2015, for further information visit here.