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Ai Weiwei,
'Art is always political'

In the globalising society that we live in, categorising people by nationality reflects mental laziness, a judgement based on superficial appearances rather than a deeper understanding of an individual’s background. It is an intellectual shortcut, because the search for the truth is often more complicated and dangerous than identifying a national boundary.

 

Today, the individual has unprecedented opportunities for communication with people in the most remote parts of the world, and technology has endowed us with powerful possibilities for self-expression through artwork, colour, sound, movement, light, rhythm, poetry and prose. Change is inevitable.

I have said before that Twitter is my city. It gives me a sense of anchorage and security. It is also where I interact with neighbours, friends, and possibly enemies. It is a world that I can enter anytime, and there is no distance, barrier or hierarchy among its participants. Without the pressure of political or economic powers, moments of freedom can be felt as we exchange friendly gestures or fight with digital symbols.

In this year’s Venice Biennale in Italy, I was chosen to represent Germany in the French Pavilion as a Chinese person and an artist. The situation itself is a statement on the corruption inherent in the structures that govern representation. My work can be described as Chinese art or German art, but such labels only reflect the condition of the people using them. In the globalising society that we live in, categorising people by nationality reflects mental laziness, a judgement based on superficial appearances rather than a deeper understanding of an individual’s background. It is an intellectual shortcut, because the search for the truth is often more complicated and dangerous than identifying a national boundary.

I live in China, but my work cannot be seen in the country. My name has become a symbol for freedom of expression, and it is state policy to suppress discussion of my activities. Search engines censor results for my name on the Chinese internet, and any information about me that does appear online is considered unlawful. My art does not have equal weight in the Chinese mind as elsewhere because of these controls. My case remains affected by geopolitical boundaries, yet I believe that no artist is entitled to any form of privilege because of their nationality, or for any other factors unless they have fought for it and earned it.

Art is liberation of the mind. It often leads us to unfamiliar and sometimes dangerous territories, yet this is the quality in art that impresses us. We find the best artistic activities aesthetically and morally striking because of the challenges that they propose. Art stretches our understanding of morality, leaving a philosophical impact on our minds. In other words, art is always political. Artists, by profession, have a duty to challenge the society they live in and to question mainstream assumptions. By doing so, artists always take on danger, becoming vulnerable.

All art has its own message; even the seemingly most ridiculous work is still expressing a state of mind. As new technological and scientific developments challenge our way of thinking, the condition we live in and our modes of expression, artists should always be the first to become aware of the change that arises and the boundaries that it destroys.

  • Ai Weiwei

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