Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has filled Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall with handcrafted sunflower seeds, co-designed Beijing’s National Stadium, and covered the front of Munich’s Haus der Kunst museum with 9,000 schoolchildren’s backpacks as a memorial to those killed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. His art is never lacking in scale and ambition – but it was this last piece, 2009’s Remembering, that he claims “made me the most dangerous person in China”.
Ai collected the names of more than 5,000 quake victims, working to expose construction industry corruption and coverup. An outspoken dissident and critic of the Chinese authorities, he was arrested in Beijing in 2011; 81 days later, he was released but fined £1.5m for tax evasion and placed under house arrest for four years. In 2015, able to travel again, Ai moved to Germany – and has more recently relocated to the UK, and is now living in Cambridge.
Born in Beijing in 1957, Ai was only a year old when his family was sent to a rural labour camp; his father was a dissident poet. He says growing up in China provided the political spur to art. “If my art has any meaning, it is as a tool for freedom,” he told the Guardian recently. This spring, Ai’s latest work, History of Bombs will be at London’s Imperial War Museum – he will be the first artist to ever take over the entire atrium, with a site-specific work that explores international migration and the relationship between the individual, society and the state.
Next month we will publish an interview with Ai in which readers ask the questions. Submit your question in the form below, in the comments section, email us at review@ observer.co.uk or tweet @ObsNewReview by noon, Thursday 6 February.
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