An internationally acclaimed Chinese artist and activist wants to come to Harrisonburg. Junior Victoria Gunawan recently interviewed Ai Weiwei about his artwork, motivation, and message for students in the U.S. In addition to his sculpture, film, installations, and other artwork, Weiwei is known for his criticism of China’s position on democracy and human rights. Weiwei’s recent works include the 2010 installation “Sunflower Seeds” in London’s Tate Modern art gallery, for which he covered the Tate’s Turbine hall in 100 million handmade porcelain sunflower seeds.
The transcript from Gunawan’s Skype conversation with Weiwei is as follows, and is published with a video of the interview on Gunawan’s WordPress blog, Wu Li Qing.
Gunawan (G): Do you have something that you are currently working on?
Ai Weiwei (A): I’m working on a few exhibitions and books and documentary films. I have an exhibition in Brooklyn. It’s gonna be open around next month. And I have an exhibition in Berlin, which is gonna open on [the] third of next month. And in September I’m gonna have a show in Alcatraz, an old jail in California. And for other things, I’m working on several books which include my, uh, some writings, interviews, and also one monograph book of my artworks.
G: How do get your motivation to keep producing art and work?
A: Well, I got nothing else to do. I don’t grow vegetables or I don’t feed the silkworms (it’s meant to be funny, by the way). So, gonna have to do some artworks while we have a chance to do.
G: How about your family, do they motivate you to keep working?
A: No, not really. [My family] don’t care that much. My father was a poet, and, uh, he doesn’t really think we are good at art.
Or he doesn’t really encourage us to work as an artist because, uh, when he was being an artist he had so much trouble in his life.
G: Do you feel safe even though you don’t have your passport?
A: Yes. [The government] already took my passport and haven’t given it back to me since, uh, three years; since I was secret to be detained 2011. Actually it was later Apr. third.
G: I’m sure you get a lot of interviews from people from the States and also from other country. So, what message do you hope college students in the US carry from your work?
A: I think today, you know, people are really trying to develop themselves, you know, to try to find opportunity in the future to work, to contribute, and to make a meaningful life. And, uh, but at the same time, I think they should pay a lot of attention to freedom of speech. Only by [protecting] these rights, we have a healthier society. So, they should really pay attention to the social or political situation besides just study. They should give out their opinions because those sayings are not directly related, but it would affect to the general quality of life.
You know, I hope people should be more involved with what’s going on in China and not just show [a] friendly face in [facing] the very important issues. And also, you know, to, really, we cannot just be friendly. You have to be honest, truthful; then you can be friendly. We saw the [honesty, truthfulness], and friendliness [are] not gonna worth anything, you know. So, you have to let your heart out or people didn’t understand who you are and what you believe. I think that’s the most important [thing] in any kind of relationship.
G: At our university, we really uphold social justice, which is aligned with your values. So, how can we in this university best support your message and work? (EMU is a Christian university that uplifts social justice, which is aligned with your values.)
A: Maybe just write to your president and ask [if maybe] I can come to your school to teach or talk or whatever. No, otherwise it’s fine, you know, today the communication is so easy. Now we know each other, and I know you, [and] you know me. So, you know, we can keep in touch.
-Introduction by Randi B. Hagi, Co-Editor In Chief