Art + Activism

Life is much more interesting when you make a little bit of effort.

-Ai WeiWei

It has been a busy past few days and after finishing all of my assignments, I decided to relax on the couch with Netflix.

I took to Twitter to ask what I should watch. I got a lot of good suggestions: Orange Is The New Black (already watched every episode), House of Cards, Skins, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Community, etc. All great, and I plan to watch each and every one some day!

For some reason, I took no ones advice, and put on Ai WeiWei: Never Sorry, a film I had been meaning to watch for quite some time.

I leaned back, put my feet up, and pressed play.

A few minutes in I actually paused the movie, got up to get my notepad and pen, sat back down, resumed play and began taking notes. (Thanks CreComm)

Which ultimately brought me here, to my laptop, and a new blog post.

Who is Ai WeiWei? Ai-Weiwei-001

Ai WeiWei is a very outspoken, Chinese international artist, best known for his photography, sculptures, architecture, films and more. He has gained notoriety through his use of social media, and his fearless attitude toward the Chinese government.

Ai WeiWei collaborated with other artists to create the birds nest stadium for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. He ended up staying away from the Opening Ceremony in a political stance against the government.

He also investigated the 2008 Sichuan earthquake that killed more than 70,000 people. He blames “tofu” school buildings poorly built by the government for collapsing and causing the unnecessary deaths of 5,000 children. Ai WeiWei and his team of volunteers went to the cities affected, and produced a list of names of all of the victims.


His actions are extremely controversial, which is why the police began following him. They have shut down his blog, attacked him in his hotel room, and illegally detained him. The government also demolished the studio they built for him after the 2008 Olympics.

He reports all of this on Twitter.

“No I don’t want them to say sorry, I want them to learn they cannot do things like this.”

weiwei5n-1-webOn April 3, 2011 Ai WeiWei disappeared. Authorities had arrested him and held him for 81 days. They interrogated him every day about his online activities and interviews. He had two guards with him at all times, even when he was using the washroom and while he slept.

When he was released, he was placed under house arrest and told he was not to use social media or do interviews. Shortly after, Ai WeiWei reappeared on Twitter.

Here is an interview Ai WeiWei did with Jian Ghomeshi from his home in Beijing back in September.

Not only is Ai WeiWei an extremely talented artist, he is an inspiring man. He risks his life to defend freedom of expression. He risks his own freedom, in hopes of making a change for the future of China.

I think there is a responsibility for any artist to protect freedom of expression.

I highly recommend watching this film.

*SIDENOTE: This film really got me thinking. Everyone kind of already knows China has a strict government that enforces censorship laws. But what about here in Canada?

Perhaps not as severe, but here’s an interesting story of a CANADIAN artist who has experienced censorship in her own artwork.

Where do you think it is appropriate to draw the line when it comes to freedom of expression?


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