Ai Weiwei (ī´ wāwā), 1957–, Chinese artist, architect, filmmaker, and political activist. He is the son of poet Ai Ch'ing, who was internally exiled (1958–76) to work camps with his family. Ai subsequently studied at the Beijing Film Institute, began to make avant-garde art, and became politically active. From 1981 to 1993 he lived in New York City and studied at the Parsons Inst. of Design. In the mid-1990s he and two other artists published an influential trilogy of books on avant-garde Chinese artists. Ai began to attract international attention with such works as the photo tryptich Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn (1995) and his reassembled Ming and Ch'ing artifacts, which embody his recurring themes of destruction and recreation. He opened an art atelier and architectural practice and helped design the Beijing Olympics "Bird's Nest" stadium (2008), but soon disassociated himself from the games. His best-known works include the backpacks and text installations (2009) commemorating the children who died in poorly built schools in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and the Tate Modern's installation (2010) of millions of porcelain sunflower seeds.
Ai began writing a blog in 2005, which by 2008 had become a venue for political satire and dissidence. In 2009 a severe police beating required emergency surgery; the next year he was placed under house arrest. In 2011 the government razed his Shanghai studio and he was arrested, ostensibly for tax evasion, detained secretly for several weeks, then had his travel restricted. He was fined $2.4 million for tax evasion. In 2012 the government revoked his business license, forcing his architectural firm to close. Ai created six half-scale fiberglass dioramas depicting his detention; smuggled out of China, they were exhibited in Venice in 2013. A multimedia exhibition made for Alcatraz (2014–15) focuses on human rights and on prisoners of conscience and features large portraits of prisoners made with small plastic bricks.
See L. Ambrozy, ed., Ai Weiwei's Blog: Writings, Interviews, and Digital Rants, 2006–2009 (2011) and L. Warsh, ed., Weiwei-isms (2012); study by K. Smith et al. (2009); B. Martin, Hanging Man: The Arrest of Ai Weiwei (2013); A. Klayman, dir. Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (documentary, 2012).