Ai Weiwei, born 1957 in Beijing, is a Chinese contemporary artist, sculptor, performer, photographer, architect and exhibition curator. The magazine Art Review described him as the most powerful figure in contemporary art in 2013: “His activism has been a reminder of how art can reach out to a bigger audience and connect with the real world”.
One of his most celebrated recent works is the installation “Sunflower seeds”, comprising mil- lions of replica porcelain sunflower seeds, each one hand-made. Widely exported, porcelain is a specialty of Chinese handcraft. For Ai Weiwei, sunflower seeds have a specific symbolic meaning, containing historical implications aside from that being a popular snack. During the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966-76), propaganda images frequently represented Mao as the sun, with the Chinese people as sunflower seeds. Through these seeds, Ai Weiwei intended to “to embolden many young people to self-expression”, in the words of the artist.
Gérard Xuriguera : Ai Weiwei no longer requires presentation, such has he occupied both the political and artistic columns both in his country and internationally. Controversial multimedia artist at the heart of the independent Chinese art scene, sculptor, installation artist, blogger, photographer, architectural bureau consultant, notably for the Olympic Games 2008, signatory of the 082 chart along with 303 other intellectuals, since his debuts he has developed, following the example of Wang Du, a caustic and irreverent polychromatic œuvre in opposition to the official line from Beijing. In keeping with his thematic material, he employs a varied range of sometimes unusual materials, taking them away from their commonly understood meaning, thus critiquing through derision propaganda images. Using as a subject daily life, animals, objects, or politics, he revisits in his ceramic sculpture « Sunflower seeds » the questions evoked in his 2011 installation for the London Tate, in which he had accumulated and spread out on the floor thousands of these recreated seeds. This environment was emblematic of the Mao era, which considered its people as a uniform multiplication of these particles. The playful, even satirical, element in his work is that which brings such works to a sociopolitical level.