Alison Klayman’s film follows the artist Ai Weiwei as he prepares for autumn shows at the Sao Paulo Biennale and Tate Modern. Throughout the documentary, however, it is Ai Weiwei the political activist rather that the artist that is the dominant force.

Ai Weiwei’s absolute commitment to challenging injustice in China is extraordinary and humbling, particularly as he perseveres today, despite his 81 day detention in 2011.

His upbringing first acquainted him with repression. His father, the poet and political activist Ai Qing, was subjected to imprisonment for his beliefs.

Ai Weiwei was first celebrated as an artist outside of his native country. However, as his worldwide fame grew, the political regime in China decided to embrace this success and commissioned him to create the Bird’s Nest Stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The artist’s relationship with Chinese authorities soon turned sour. The main catalyst for this was the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan. Thousands died, yet there were no officials figures, nor any official statements on what caused the earthquake and the deaths, which included many children. Ai Weiwei, with the help of volunteers, redressed this silence by painstakingly gathering and listing the names of those who died. His fellow activist Tan Zuoren also tried to get more information on the earthquake but was arrested for doing so. Ai Weiwei was due to testify at his trial, but was detained and assaulted by the police, which thus prevented him from appearing in court. The artist took legal action against the police, which predictably fails. But this very point seem to emphasise the motives behind Ai Weiwei’s actions –  it is not just about the outcome, but of challenging injustice whenever and wherever possible. Action outplays inaction.

The film includes interviews with fellow artists, who acknowledge and admire Ai Weiwei’s refusal to compromise, to comply with towing the only line permitted by the Chinese authorities.

The film briefly touches on the artist’s private life. We see his mother, who both admires and is fearful for her son. Ai Weiwei has been married to a fellow artist for many years, and has a young son by another woman, all of whom appear significant and important in his life. The artist has turned the internet, particularly Twitter, to his, and the Chinese people’s advantage, as he doggedly shares his views on the injustices he witnesses in his native country, to which he is deeply committed.

The film is captivating and unobtrusively gives some insight into the man, the artist, and most especially the political activist.

But, and this is a small but for an impressive and must-see film, I did leave the auditorium wanting more…

CQ

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