Film “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” comes to Mason

There are few artists who have evoked such controversy as Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.

Known for his criticism of the Chinese government, a new film entitled “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” follows the controversial figure through his art and his activism. The film will be screened on Wednesday, Nov. 14 at 6:30 p.m. in the Johnson Center Cinema followed by a panel discussion.

Known for his famous design of the 2008 Bejing Olympics Birdsnest stadium, Ai Weiwei has since gained international fame outside of China.

Through a series of deliberate actions, Weiwei has become a threat to the Chinese government for his persistent push towards government transparency. Most notably, Weiwei’s critique of the handling of dozens of schools that collapsed and killed thousands of children during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Outraged, Weiwei led an investigation into the poor infrastructure of the building, an investigation that didn’t please the Chinese government.

In China, where social media is highly restrictive, Weiwei was able to use his blog to publish the list of earthquake victims. 

As a result of his activism Weiwei has been beaten and investigated by the police, an organization that sees him as a threat to the stability of his country.

“Ai Weiwei is an artist who is having a global impact,” said Beth Hoffman, an assistant professor in the Department of English. Weiwei’s work and activism is being discussed in great deal over the current political and cultural landscape. In fact, Weiwei is being compared to the likes of Any Warhol. Due to the global educational roots at Mason, Hoffman wanted to bring the film to the Mason community to teach students about the activism and art coming out of China.

“The idea is to be able to bring students to these major conversations that are happening right now and to plug them into the major issues of today,” Hoffman said.

Produced and directed by journalist Allison Klayman, the film shows unprecedented access to Weiwei’s life. Klayman followed him interacting with his art and his employees, and his life before and after his brutal beating by Chinese officials. What Klayman is able to capture are Weiwei’s deliberate actions. He is an artist who is entirely aware of what he is doing. From each blog post or tweet, Weiwei understands he is risking his own life.

Currently, Weiwei isn’t allowed to leave China and has internet restrictions placed on him. For someone so revered in China and around the world, standing up to the government with such a high profile is risky.

“The Birdsnest led to a lot of opportunities for him and gave him a profile that he could very well have capitalized on,” Hoffman said, “I think that takes a lot of courage.”

However, with Weiwei constantly being monitored by a camera and by the police, it becomes difficult to find out who Weiwei actually is.

“You always want to get the ‘real story’ behind the media blitz and I think that this documentary holds the promise of that,” Hoffman said.

Following the event, artist Hasan Elahi will also be doing a Q&A session. An artist who focuses on technology and media within his art, his work and experience is similar to Weiwei’s. Hasan is currently an associate professor of art at the University of Maryland. Hasan sees Weiwei as “one of the pioneers of contemporary artists in China getting recognition in the West.”

Hasan’s work breaches the boundaries of what we consider art.  Having been falsely accused of being a terrorist by the FBI, Hasan decided to detail his everyday life and send images directly to the CIA and FBI. Much like Weiwei, Hasan was also under government survelliance by the government for many months. He decided to share these images with the public through the Tracking Transience Project which has been going for more than three years. Hasan sees Weiwei’s work as groundbreaking in questioning the authority of the Chinese government.

“I think that some of the work that he is doing is certainly challenging, ground breaking, and also placed in the context of China he certainly is posing himself in a very precarious situation,” Hasan said.

“Ai WeiWei: Never Sorry” invites the audience to reinvent their own notions of China. Not only are there scenes of Weiwei being beaten, but also ordinary scenes of him eating with his friends. Through the life of Weiwei, students can gain a different appreciation for Chinese culture and art.

Hasan hopes that students who view the film will see art in a different way.

“I think it’s important to recognize that many times the arts have an impact much greater than the art itself,” Hasan said. “There’s a specific level of agency that certain types of works have that have a life outside of the physical art.”

The film's screening is also a part of an exhibition of Ai Weiwei's work "According to What?" is currently on display at Washington D.C.’s Hirshhorn Museum, from now until February 24, 2013. 

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