Born in China to a poet father who was denounced during the Anti-Rightist movement, Ai has experienced displacement from an early age, when his family was sent to a labour camp and were exiled for 16 years. In the early 1980s, Ai relocated to the United States where he studied art, living undocumented in New York for a decade. He moved back to Beijing in 1993 where he was a fixture of the early Chinese avant-garde. Ai’s art reflects contemporary life, including the relationship between modernity and tradition, and the individual and society. Since 2015, Ai’s work has focused in particular on the human issues brought to the fore by the global refugee crisis.
Ai’s new project Omni, his first virtual reality artwork produced in collaboration with Acute Art, brings together two videos – Displaced Working Elephants in Myanmar and Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh – and gives viewers an intimate view of the uprooted, both animals and humans, as they experience various forms of displacement. The 360° immersive video places the viewer alongside the former working elephants in Myanmar, and within a refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, the world’s largest refugee settlement, in Bangladesh.
Ai Weiwei was born in 1957 in Beijing and now lives and works in Berlin. He attended Beijing Film Academy and later, on moving to New York (1983–1993), continued his studies at the Parsons School of Design. Major solo exhibitions include K20/K21, Düsseldorf, Germany (2019); OCA, São Paulo, Brazil (2018); Corpartes, Santiago, Chile (2018); Mucem, Marseille, France (2018); PROA, Buenos Aires, Argentina (2017); Sakip Sabanci, Museum, Istanbul, Turkey (2017); Public Art Fund, New York, NY, USA (2017); Israel Museum, Jerusalem (2017); Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, Italy (2016); 21er Haus, Vienna, Austria (2016); Helsinki Art Museum, Finland (2016); Royal Academy, London, UK (2015); Martin Gropius Bau, Berlin, Germany (2014); Indianapolis Museum of Art, IN, USA (2013); Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C., USA (2012); Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taiwan (2011); Tate Modern, London, UK (2010) and Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany (2009). Architectural collaborations include the 2012 Serpentine Pavilion and the 2008 Beijing Olympic Stadium, with Herzog and de Meuron. Among numerous awards and honours, he won the lifetime achievement award from the Chinese Contemporary Art Awards in 2008 and was made Honorary Academician at the Royal Academy of Arts, London in 2011. His human rights work has been recognised through the Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent in 2012 and Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Award in 2015.
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