Custom «Artist and Social Change» Sample Essay
For many centuries, art has played an important role in the development of human civilization. Art is intended to reveal an aesthetic pleasure to the audience. Thus, throughout the history, many artists used their works not only as aesthetic objects but as social and political weapons. Apparently, during different social movements and revolutions, artists reacted against political oppression, injustice, and violence. Such kind of art aims to be seen and heard in order to contribute to the social change by evoking awareness in the audience. Nina Simone claimed that it is impossible to be an artist and not reflect the times (Martinique). In other words, protest artists try to bring together the political, social, and humanitarian functions of art. Ai Weiwei is one of the most famous contemporary artists whose works directly reflect political disobedience and activism.
Artist’s Political Life
Ai Weiwei is an active political activist who uses his art in order to address the Chinese government corruption, their contempt of human rights, in particular, their thoughts and speech, and other political issues. Ai Weiwei was not politically active other than through his art. Thus, he was very active on the Internet before popularizing his artworks. In fact, Weiwei had his own blog on the biggest Chinese platform where he posted his thoughts raising different political issues. The artist criticized the policy of Chinese government, revealed his thoughts about modern art and architecture. One of the most famous incidents, in which Ai Weiwei actively participated, was the investigation of school corruption. The artist saw that improper material and engineering work can lead to the destruction of school during the earthquake. Ai Weiwei is famous not only in China but also worldwide. He traveled to various countries such as the United States, India, Syria, and others. Once, Weiwei was arrested and labeled a “political dissident”. Such arrest was explained by the government as an arrest for “alleged economic crimes” against his state (Branigan and Watts). Consequently, due to his active political protests, the artist was repeatedly oppressed and tracked by the government.
Meaning of Weiwei’s Art
The art of Ai Weiwei is directly related to the political and social protest. All of his artworks directly or indirectly raised certain political and social issues. The messages depicted in his works are not coded. Nevertheless, Ai Weiwei wants his audience to understand the meaning he expresses. Furthermore, the artist makes his works provocative in order for everybody observing them to become more aware of the raised issues. Similarly to Picasso or Michelangelo, Ai Weiwei risks everything for his ideals. He uses his art as a means of influence on society aiming to make people understand that their rights are oppressed, and the society should fight for them. One can even find his works offensive; thus, it becomes obvious that their main purpose is to become a weapon to ridicule the Chinese authorities.
Medias of the Artist’s Works
In order to reveal his political ideas, Ai Weiwei uses different kinds of art media. His art heritage includes documentaries, photographs, paintings, sculptures, architecture, and even music. The artist made many documentary videos revealing modern social and political issues. For example, one of his most famous films is A Beautiful Life, in which the artist documents the story of one Chinese citizen struggling to return home. The authorities banned his return to the country where the man was born. Consequently, he suffered from different life challenges. In this video, Weiwei tries to show how the Sichuan earthquake influenced the lives of many students and investigates its causes, which he believes to have originated due to inappropriate policies of the government. By making these documentaries, Ai Weiwei wanted to show the way people suffered from different consequences of inappropriate governmental policies. He tried to reveal the drawbacks of Chinese political system and how it influences people.
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Another media of Weiwei art is visual art. He takes different photographs and relates them to certain political issues. For example, one of his most famous series is the Study of Perspective. In it, the artist’s middle finger sticks up at different monuments (see fig. 1) all over the world. His installation Remembering is aimed to bring justice to the victims who suffered from the Sichuan earthquake in 2008. Another installation, Sunflower Seeds, comprised more than 100 million black porcelain seeds. Moreover, the seeds were made by more than 1600 artisans. Weiwei’s exhibition Fairytale remains to be an example of the unique social engagement (Zhou). He drew the attention of many people in order to perform the social exhibition and raise social awareness in people. Each work of the artist has its unique meaning. He aims to both demonstrate his own vision of the modern world and reveal his thoughts in regards to it.
Ai Weiwei also contributed to architecture development. He was the director and co-founder of many famous monuments of architecture. For example, one of his most popular works is a National Stadium called The Bird’s Nest in Beijing. Weiwei worked in collaboration with other architects since the stadium was designed for the 2008 Olympics. Though Ai Weiwei participated in the creation of this building aiming to boycott the Olympics and the Chinese government, in particular, the stadium was perceived by the Chinese political party as an advertisement of their glory worldwide. Ai Weiwei also worked with sculptures aiming to present his idea and thoughts regarding the Chinese political system. One of the most famous examples is Template made in 2007. The composition is made from different wooden doors from the houses of Ming and Qing Dynasty, which contributed to the development of China. Therefore, Weiwei tried to emphasize that the contemporary system also needs some changes. All aforementioned works of Ai Weiwei have a strong political meaning since they call for changes.
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Since Ai Weiwei is a multifaceted artist, he also created music. Again, Weiwei’s music was intended to draw attention to the Chinese government. Accordingly, he made a cover of the famous “Gangnam Style” song posting the video to YouTube to criticize the government for their attempts to silence the artist’s activism. However, soon the video was blocked by national authorities. One more example of Weiwei’s music is “Dumbass.” In fact, this was a video clip distributed on the Internet. In his video, Ai revealed his experience in prison and its reality. He made a lot of musical clips, in which he expressed his attitude to the surrounding world and his own experiences.
Due to his active political protests, which were revealed in his works, Ai Weiwei was punished by the Chinese government. Considering the fact that the artist strongly criticized the policy and regime of Chinese Communist Party and their neglect of human rights, it was no surprise (Sorace). He was arrested in Beijing airport by police. The explanation behind the arrest was that the government thought that Ai Weiwei and other political activists wanted to launch a “jasmine revolution (Schraeder).” This revolution is associated with the uprisings against autocratic governments of Africa. Nobody could criticize the policy of the Communist Party, so Ai Weiwei and many other activists were arrested by the government. Such governmental actions were seen as repression of dissidents. Thus, they revealed that the Chinese government is fearful of its own people and tries to eliminate all kinds of uprisings, which could damage the societal order. After Ai’s arrest, many of his studios and exhibitions were blocked by police officers. Furthermore, online access to his works was also limited in order to prevent the followers of the artist from observing his page.
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The works of Ai Weiwei have a significant impact on modern Chinese society, as well as the global community. Despite the fact that for many years Ai created in the United States, he returned to China in order to share his own thoughts and ideas with the Chinese people. By his extraordinary works, the artist openly reveals his attitude to the Chinese Communist Party and their policies. He states that the party neglects human rights and does not allow the people to speak and think freely. Through his videos, paintings, exhibitions, and sculptures, Ai Weiwei delivers his pungent message to Chinese people and calls them to think of their role and become more conscious (Stevens). Furthermore, the artist shows many drawbacks of the governmental system and claims that a number of essential political and economic changes should be made. Weiwei's work also has international significance since he shares many Chinese events on his blog, which is available online. Consequently, people from all over the world can observe them. The impact of Ai’s works considers the power of art as a cultural record.
To summarize, art is one of the most powerful weapons that ever existed. Different kinds of artworks preserve the culture that cannot last forever. Over many centuries, artists used their works as a means to reveal their thoughts and ideas. Ai Weiwei is one of such artists who aims to draw people’s attention to important political and social issues through his works. Despite the fact that the artist was punished for his openness, he continues sharing his experience and views on things, which tends to worry contemporary society.
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