As well as being one of the world’s leading artists, Ai Weiwei has become prominent for his social activism and criticism of the Chinese government’s stance on democracy and human rights. His recent works brought social issues in China at the forefront of the international stage. In 2011, he was detained by the Chinese police for 81 days, and has not been allowed to leave the country since.
Born in 1957 in Beijing, Ai Weiwei’s father Ai Qing was one China’s best-known poets who was denounced during the Cultural Revolution one year after Ai Weiwei was born. The Ai family spent the next 18 years in exile and only returned to Beijing in 1976. In 1978, Ai Weiwei was admitted to the Beijing Film Academy and founded the avant-garde ‘Stars’ group together with Ma Desheng, Wang Keping, Huang Rui and other artists. The first unofficial exhibition of this group, which took place by a fence of the Beijing National Gallery, attracted international attention. Ai lived in the US between 1981 and 1993, and studied briefly at Parsons School of Design in New York. In 1994 after returning to China, Ai co-founded the China Art Archives and Warehouse (CAAW) with Frank Uytterhaegen and the late Hans van Dijk. In 2000, Ai Weiwei co-curated his first exhibition ‘Fuck Off’ with Feng Boyi in Shanghai. Although almost immediately closed by the officials after it was opened, ‘Fuck Off’ remained to be one of the most important exhibitions in the history of Chinese contemporary art. Ai Weiwei’s first solo exhibition only came in 2008 at the Mary Boone Gallery in New York, and in the same year he received the prestigious Chinese Contemporary Art Award. His works were featured in major exhibitions at the Venice Biennale (2013); Kunsthaus Bregenz (2011); the Victoria & Albert Museum, London (2011); Asia Society Museum, New York (2011); Tate Modern, London (2010); São Paulo Bienal (2010); Haus der Kunst, Munich (2009); Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (2009); and Documenta XII (2007), to name a few. Ai lives and works in the Art District of Dashanz in Beijing.