Tuesday July 31st, Gore Vidal, one of the world’s most prolific and at times, most controversial writers, died at the age of eighty-six; his iconic quotes have been bantered in newspapers, talk shows over the last few days. As I watched this stupendous documentary (made by first time filmmaker Alison Klayman) about Chinese artist and activist, Ai Weiwei, one of Vidal’s bon mots resonated: “Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.”
Ai Weiwei has an established reputation in the contemporary art world (he was one of the designers, along with Herzog & de Meuron, of the Bird’s Nest Stadium 2008, Beijing Olympics); but it was his unexplained 81- day incarceration (2011) in a Chinese prison that has poll vaulted him into international prominence; he is now a symbol of an oppressive, totalitarian society, where the individual is denied freedom of expression; one’s life is under constant survellience; government, intransigent in its garroted repressiveness.
As Westerners, with an abundance of largesse, it is impossible to fathom the loss of our First Amendment privileges; herein, is the essence of this intelligent, forthright story of a man whose daily existence could, at any second be extinguished, because of his intractable will to speak, create and struggle for, not only his inalienable rights but for rights of every man, woman and child in China.
Ai Weiwei, the son of persecuted poet Ai Quig, feels a responsibility to flay the tyranny of past generations. His 12- year sojourn in New York City gifted him a feverish lust for an unshackled life and Carnegie Deli’s pastrami sandwiches. Returning to China due to his father’s failing health; the internet was his salvation and blight. In 2008, after the horrific earthquake in Sichuan, where tens of thousands lost their lives, including multitudes of children, because of shoddy, government construction; he memorialized (along with the aid of 50 volunteers) those lost, youthful souls by posting their names on the first anniversary of the disaster. This was a staggering act of defiance, a monumental slap to a monolithic, punitive power. How ironic that in the West similar memorials by artist/ architect ,Chris Burden/ Maya Lin, referencing unsung heroes are lauded, celebrated, revered.
Ai Weiwei was named most powerful man in art, 2011 “ArtReview”; he feels there is little distinction between art and politics; his art is about “life, human dignity”. Ai Weiwei is a metaphor for the “power of one”; he has made a difference, “knowing, saying, not giving a damn”; he a man, not a saint, let’s pray he does not become a martyr.
FOUR & 1/2 STARS!!!!