Artist and activist Ai Weiwei’s show, According to What? at the Brooklyn Museum features over forty works created over the span of 20 years across multidisciplines including photography, sculpture, architecture, video, and activism. In true activist spirit, even Ai’s most aesthetically pleasing works have strong social and political resonance.
Ye Haiyan’s Belongings is a recreation of the belongings of feminist activist Ye Haiyan which were dumped on a roadside after she and her family were forced out of town by Chinese authorities. Ai offered her financial help and shipped her belongings to his studio in Beijing where his studio created a photographic inventory. 603 of these images were selected to make up the wallpaper around this installation.
Perhaps leaning more towards activism than art, this picture Ai Weiwei in the Elevator When Taken into Custody by Police was posted on Twitter, the only means of communicating his message through social media to the outside world after the Chinese government shut down his blog. The police were trying to prevent him from testifying on behalf of a fellow activist and used brute force to restrain him. Brain Inflation is an x-ray of Ai’s head showing major brain hemorrhaging from the attack which required emergency brain surgery.
The Sichuan Earthquake on May 12, 2008 killed ninety-thousand people, many of whom were children, leaving behind several abandoned backpacks though out the quake zone. Snake Ceiling is comprised of several of these bags which Ai transforms into this menacing slithering snake.
Straight is a large sculpture made from mangled rebar from the collapsed school houses of the Earthquake. Ai went through the laborious process of straightening each panel.
Sichuan Name List was Ai’s citizen’s investigation into the children who perished in the earthquake. The list includes the name, gender, date of birth, age, school, class and home address of each victim. It is posted on the wall at Ai’s studio.
Study of Perspectives is an interesting way to close, or perhaps open the exhibition, depending on where you enter. In a juvenile and rebellious way, Ai is photographing himself extending his middle finger to Tiananmen Square.
Ai Weiwei According to What? is on view at the Brooklyn Museum through August 10th.