Ai Weiwei

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Ai Weiwei (b. 1957) is a Chinese contemporary artist, active in sculpture, installation, architecture, curating, photography, film, and social, political and cultural criticism. Ai collaborated with Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron as the artistic consultant on the Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Olympics.

As a political activist, he has been highly and openly critical of the Chinese Government’s stance on democracy and human rights. He has investigated government corruption and cover-ups, in particular the Sichuan schools corruption scandal following the collapse of so-called ‘tofu-skin schools’ in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. In 2011, following his arrest at Beijing airport, he was held for over two months without any official charges being filed; officials alluded to their allegations of ‘economic crimes’ (tax evasion).

Ai Weiwei’s father was Chinese poet Ai Qing, who was denounced during the Anti-Rightist Movement and in 1958 sent to a labor camp in Xinjiang with his wife, Gao Ying. Ai Weiwei was one year old at the time and lived in Shihezi for 16 years. In 1975 the family returned to Beijing. In 1978, Ai enrolled in the Beijing Film Academy and attended school with Chinese directors Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou. In 1978, he was one of the founders of the early avant garde art group the ‘Stars,’ though the group disbanded in 1983.

From 1981 to 1993, he lived in the United States, mostly in New York, creating conceptual art by altering readymade objects. He studied at Parsons School of Design and at the Art Students League of New York. At the same time, Ai became fascinated by blackjack card games and frequented Atlantic City casinos. He is still regarded in gambling circles as a top tier professional blackjack player.

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