Ai Weiwei is China’s most celebrated contemporary artist, and its most outspoken domestic critic. In April 2011, when Ai disappeared into police custody for three months, he quickly became the art world’s most famous missing person. Since then, Ai Weiwei’s critiques of China’s repressive regime have ranged from playful photographs of his raised middle finger in front of Tiananmen Square to searing memorials to the more than 5,000 schoolchildren who died in shoddy government construction in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Against a backdrop of strict censorship, Ai has become a hero on social media to millions of Chinese citizens.
This book, prohibited from publication in China, offers an intimate look at Ai Weiwei’s world in the years after his return from New York and preceding his imprisonment and global superstardom. The photographs capture Ai’s emergence as the uniquely provocative artist that he is today. There is no more revealing portrait of Ai Weiwei’s life in China than this.
The book contains more than 600 carefully sequenced images culled from an archive of more than 40,000 photographs taken by Ai: a narrative arc carefully shaped by an artist keenly aware of photography’s ability to tell stories. It includes a shattering series of photographs taken between 1993 and 1996 devoted to the final illness and death of Ai’s father Ai Qing. The book is a sequel to Ai Weiwei: New York 1983–1993, a privately published book that collected photographs taken by Ai during his years on the New York art scene.