For years the Chinese dissident artist, Ai Weiwei, had been a thorn in the back side of the Beijing autocracy, publicly undermining their every attempt of portraying a unified and content populace. However, on the 6th of August 2018, it seemed the government scored a devastating win. Unannounced and with no prior warning, Chinese authorities arrived at his studio of over 10 years, armed with heavy machinery and tore the building down. “Farewell,” Ai wrote on Instagram. “Today, they started to demolish my studio ‘Zuo You’ in Beijing with no precaution. Which I have as my main studio since 2006.”
Although the rental contract of the space had expired last autumn, the studio manager claimed the staff hadn’t had enough time to move out of the space given Ai’s vast collection of materials and works. The artist said that a number of his works had been irreparably damaged due to the surprise demolition.
Ai is known for a variety of art installations, including the ambitious ‘Sunflower Seeds’ exhibited at the Tate Modern in London. However, his most important work is his social activism against an oppressive regime. It is controversially embodied by his ‘Study of Perspective series (1995 to 2003), a collection of photographs he took whilst travelling, offering his middle finger to some of the world’s most ‘important’ institutions. He describes it as his personal form of rebellion against any government authority who blatantly or covertly disregard the freedoms of its citizens.
With the rental in Beijing having skyrocketed and the artist firmly out of favour with his native government, it is unclear where and what Ai’s next chapter will be. What we do know is that he is persistent and he will not be silenced, as with many other artists of this generation. We take a look at some of the most important works of protest art of the past decade that embody Ai’s spirit of unforgiving freedom of expression. For what is art if not liberty?