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What do you do when your government is a totalitarianism regime and the world is not standing up to face him because of his economic power? What do yo do when you spent your first 19 years in exile? What do you do when you live in a society where dissidents lose their freedom or at times, their life? Will you speak up or shut up? Meet Ai Wei Wei, China’s celebrated and at times, controversial leading artist. He shattered valuable Chinese antiques and painted Coca Cola on another one. He gave the middle finger to both the White House and the Chinese authority. Ai Wei Wei is entitled to many things including curator, photographer, conceptual artist, architectural designer, blogger and activist.

Ai Wei Wei holds his tongue for no one, but yet he walks a fine line. He is allowed to travel within and out of China. Although China would like to see him disappear, the regime is fully aware of the bad press and world condemnation the country will attract if anything unjustified happens to Ai Wei Wei. He’s the son of the famous poet Ai Qing, who was imprisoned and exiled to Xinjiang together with his family for being a rightist. The artist was raised in a labor camp and witnessed his father being humiliated by the authorities. Ai attended the Beijing Film Academy with the likes of Chinese directors Zhang Yimou (House of Flying Daggers, Hero) and Chen Kaige (Farewell My Concubine). At the age of 24 he left China for the US, where he studied and worked for 12 years. He attended Parsons School of Design in New York and returned to China when he got informed about his father’s illness in 1993. Upon his return, to the displeasure of the authorities, he published a series of books documenting China’s underground art movement. He was the co-curator of the controversial “Fuck off” art exhibition in 2000. In 2009 the exhibition of Ai Wei Wei in Munich, at the Haus der Kunst, was politically charged. In one of his works shown in the exhibition, he used 9000 children’s backpacks ‘Remembering’ the schoolchildren who died in the Sichuan earthquake in 2008.

Ai Wei Wei participated in the design of the Chinese national stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. He was hired as an artistic consultant to the Swiss architectural firm, Herzon & De Meuron. However, one year countdown to the opening he criticized the government and the project saying “An Olympics held without freedom and against the will of the people will be nonsense because no totalitarian regime can play at being a democracy. It is a pretended harmony and happiness”. He also criticized world famous movie directors Steven Spielberg and Zhang Yimou for their involvement in the opening ceremony in an interview with The Guardian. He stated: “It’s disgusting. I don’t like anyone who shamelessly abuses their profession, who makes no moral judgment. It is mindless”. When asked about his own involvement in the project Ai said: “I did it because I love design.”

In May 2008 China’s province Sichuan was struck by an 8-magnitude earthquake. More than 5000 children died due to shabby school buildings, which collapsed. Ai Wei Wei started an independent enquiry on the incident with Tan Zuoen, an editor and environmentalist. His intension was to bring the truth to the light about the poor state of the school buildings, to document student deaths and wanted the government to acknowledge and promise better construction. During the research his volunteers were threatened, harassed and some even got imprisoned. Tan Zuoen was later arrested and charged with treason. Ai wasn’t well off either. A day before attending Tan Zuoen’s hearing he was severely beating by Chinese police force to keep him from testifying. Several months later he was admitted to a hospital in Munich and underwent a brain surgery. He Twittered pictures from his hospital bed, which immediately circulated on the internet and the major news network.

Our message to Ai Wei Wei: Follow your heart and keep up the good work. The Soul Rebel Movement salutes you.

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