Michael Wines had a powerful profile of Ai Weiwei in the New York Times over the weekend. Many of the details will be familiar from other stories about Ai but there’s still other revelations that explain the artist’s passionate pursuit of the truth:
Mr. Ai says he is ready for whatever comes. “I came to art because I wanted to escape the other regulations of the society. The whole society is so political,” he said. “But the irony is that my art becomes more and more political.” […]
[H]is politics, an in-your-face criticism of China’s leaders that, given Beijing’s limited tolerance for dissent, seems almost suicidal. Long before the Olympics, Mr. Ai disavowed his role in designing the Bird’s Nest, saying the government had transformed the Olympics into a patriotic celebration instead of using them to create a more open society.
In a 90-minute interview in his minimalist studio in north Beijing, Mr. Ai called the government unimaginative, prevaricating, suspicious of its own people and utterly focused on self-preservation.
Ai’s stoicism seems to have been bred in him, if this story is any indication. His father is a celebrated poet who also ran afoul of the Communist party:
Mr. Ai and his family lived in a hut dug into the ground. His job for the next 16 years was to clean out the village’s public toilets.
“He was 60 years old. He had never done physical work in his life and he had to start doing it,” his son said. “Every night, he comes home very, very dirty. But he says, ‘For 60 years, I don’t know who cleans my toilets. So now I do something for them.’
“That’s something I learned from him. He became very powerful in terms of his thinking. He made the toilet so clean, he would see it as a work of art — like a museum, like MoMA.”
China’s Impolitic Artist, Still Waiting to Be Silenced (New York Times)