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The Maastricht Diplomat

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Ai Weiwei: In Search Of Humanity – Exhibition Recommendation

Ten years ago, I had the pleasure to visit Ai Weiwei’s monumental exhibition “Evidence” in Berlin – an experience that left an indelible mark on my artistic sensibilities. The exhibition, showing his work in its largest solo presentation to date, explored themes related to the roots of Chinese tradition, commenting on the relentless march of the country’s modernization. One of the most striking installations featured a sea of wooden chairs and marble doors. The wooden chairs, evoking centuries-old aesthetics of rural China, served as a metaphor for the displacement caused by the urbanization sweeping across the nation. Abandoned by those migrating to urban centers, these chairs were remnants of China’s past. 

The destruction of Chinese tradition remains a central motif in Ai’s current exhibition, “In Search of Humanity” at Kunsthal in Rotterdam. As a human rights activist and artist, Ai engages with specific events, particularly political and social crises. Following the devastating earthquake in the Sichuan Province in 2008, Ai traveled to the disaster site in southwestern China, personally witnessing the aftermath where nearly 90,000 lives were lost. Over the years, he and his team uncovered corruption in the construction of many collapsed schools, contributing to the high casualty count. Notably, Ai compiled a list containing the names of all 5,197 students who died on that day. In the following years, Ai also turned to the medium of film, for example to create the impactful documentary “Human Flow”, providing a sensible account of the refugee crisis. This issue is reflected in another artwork within the exhibition – a collection of life vests and a crystal ball symbolizing the uncertain future faced by these displaced individuals.

Despite his activist stance against power imbalances and elites, Ai finds himself in an intriguing contradiction due to his own position as a globally renowned artist. In response to criticism, he characterizes his position as a “flirt with the establishment”, a term acknowledging the paradox without undermining the critical questioning that defines his work. In my opinion, Ai is an artist with a significant counterforce, pointing a finger at contemporary political and social injustices worldwide. Thus, I strongly encourage everyone to visit the “In Search Of Humanity” exhibition in Rotterdam, running until March 3, 2024, to witness firsthand the powerful narratives and thought-provoking artistry of the Chinese creator.

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