The Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum will be the site of the first North American exhibition for controversial Chinese artist Ai Weiwei (pictured left). The exhibition, titled According to What?, runs in Washington D.C. until February 24, 2013 and concludes in the Brooklyn Museum in 2014. Although Weiwei's collection of work has made it to Washington, the artist himself has not been as fortunate, as he is currently barred from leaving his native China. He was imprisoned for three months last year without charge and the government has recently attempted to close his design business.
Yet Weiwei remains undeterred, as it is through his art that he strives to promote a belief in freedom of expression in the face of constant oppression.
Despite his current 'enemy of the state' status, Weiwei was not always at odds with the Chinese government. For more than a decade, the prolific artist was championed by his native nation, considered a shining example of the contemporary Chinese art that was flourishing in the communist state. Perhaps his most monumental achievement on behalf of his country was his masterful work on Beijing's National stadium as artistic consultant during the 2008 summer Olympics.
The real breaking point between the two sides came a few months later over the government's refusal to accept any blame for the deaths of thousands of children due to poorly constructed schools that collapsed during the Sichaun earthquake. Weiwei could not condone the conduct of his government, and as a result began a personal crusade to document the tragedies that occured, pay homage to the children through his work, and expose the wrongdoings of the state. This lead to a severe government crackdown upon him which Weiwei continues to be subjected to daily.
Weiwei hopes that his exhibit will continue to spread his message of freedom to the world, as well as to shed light on the struggles he and others, subject to oppressive regimes, have faced in order to defend their human rights. Says Hirshorn director Richard Koshalek, "The context in which this exhibition is being presented is extremely, extremely important to him and to us. I think what he's saying refers to not just China, but it refers to other places in the world where freedom of expression is threated or doesn't exist."
Below I have attached images from some of the fantastic pieces that make up Weiwei's exhibition. To learn more, click on the link to Weiwei's exhibition on the Hirshhorn website here, or read The Wall Street Journal article.
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