Ai Weiwei is a Chinese political dissident and artist. His work interacts with ideas of globalization by questioning the ideological construct of the East and West, since the globe is a sphere, which cannot have a true East or West. While his work mainly comments on issues he has with the Chinese government, he mostly shows his work outside of China out of fear that he will be imprisoned by the Chinese Government, as he was in April 2011 during a crackdown on political dissidents in China. Weiwei’s art is often large-scale, three dimensional, and interactive.
Ai Weiwei’s Sunflower Seeds, shown in the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, is made of 100 million tiny handmade porcelain sunflower seeds. The work was designed to be interactive, people could get in the enormous room filled with sunflower seeds as if it were a children’s ball-pit, and enjoy the work as a playful experience. It became less interactive once the museum noticed the dust produced from people getting into the pile of ‘seeds,’ and they decided to only allow visitors to look at the seeds rather than play in them. The piece, however, was meant to call attention to political themes. The fact that the seeds were all handmade counters the stereotype that China is a place where items are mass produced by machinery for the rest of the world to consume. The fine craftsmanship of each individual seed also leads to what Hancox refers to as “the fetishization of the handmade,” as she had observed the visitors of the exhibit lining up to get the chance to hold a handful of the seeds for just a moment.
In 2017, Weiwei created an installation called Law of the Journey shown at Prague’s National Gallery. The work critiques the crisis around refugees, Weiwei’s perspective as a refugee himself calls out European governments who had recently refused to accept refugees from Greece and Italy. The piece is a giant inflatable raft full of 258 faceless inflatable figure, who appear crowded, many of the figures crouched or crunched up in a ball. The piece represents the crowded boats that refugees often make their trek to safety on.  the material of the piece is crucial because it comments on the idea of a “liferaft,” they are the last resort while on a sinking ship. However, the material is also what makes the piece an impactful aesthetic object, in order to deter the audience from viewing the piece as merely an aesthetic object, the walls leading toward the piece were lined with photographs and videos of actual refugees. While this work was large-scale and interactive, it is done differently by also including these documentary style works on the walkway, and portrays a very direct message to take action in the European refugee crisis.
Hancox, Simone. 2011. “Art, Activism and the Geopolitical Imagination: Ai Weiweis ‘Sunflower Seeds.’” Journal of Media Practice 12 (3): 279–90. doi:10.1386/jmpr.12.3.279_1.
Heartney, Eleanor. “Ai Weiwei: The Making of a Rebel.” Art in America 99, no. 6 (June 2011): 34–36. http://search.ebscohost.com.libproxy.plymouth.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aft&AN=504867387&site=ehost-live.
Mitsuji, Tai. 2018. “Connecting the Foreign with the Familiar: The 21st Biennale of Sydney. (Cover Story).” Art Monthly Australasia, no. 307 (May): 46–51. http://search.ebscohost.com.libproxy.plymouth.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aft&AN=129202806&site=ehost-live.
Neuendorf, Henri. “Ai Weiwei Brings Massive Lifeboat Installation to Prague.” Artnet News. March 13, 2017. Accessed May 02, 2019. https://news.artnet.com/exhibitions/ai-weiwei-investigates-migration-at-czech-museum-amid-refugee-related-eu-funding-dispute-889628.
- Hancox, Simone. 2011. “Art, Activism and the Geopolitical Imagination: Ai Weiweis ‘Sunflower Seeds.’” Journal of Media Practice 12 ↵
- Heartney, Eleanor. “Ai Weiwei: The Making of a Rebel.” Art in America 99, no. 6 (June 2011): 34–36. ↵
- Hancox. "Art, Activism" ↵
- Neuendorf, Henri. "Ai Weiwei Brings Massive Lifeboat Installation to Prague." ↵
- Mitsuji, Tai. 2018. “Connecting the Foreign with the Familiar: The 21st Biennale of Sydney." ↵