Arts documentary, first broadcast before Ai Weiwei’s arrest by the Chinese authorities in April 2011, and his subsequent release after being detained for 11 weeks.
Architect, photographer, curator and blogger, Ai Weiwei is China’s most famous and politically outspoken contemporary artist.
Alan Yentob explores the story of Ai Weiwei’s life and art, and reveals how this most courageous and determined of artists continues to fight for artistic freedom of expression while living under the restrictive shadows of authoritarian rule.
Ai Weiwei's father was Chinese poet Ai Qing, who was denounced during the Anti-Rightist Movement and in 1958 sent to a labour camp in Xinjiang with his wife, Gao Ying. Ai Weiwei was one year old at the time and lived in Shihezi for 16 years. In 1975 the family returned to Beijing. Ai Weiwei is married to artist Lu Qing. Ai Weiwei has a son from an extramarital relationship.
In 1978, Ai enrolled in the Beijing Film Academy and attended school with Chinese directors Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou. In 1978, he was one of the founders of the early avant garde art group the "Stars", together with Ma Desheng, Wang Keping, Huang Rui, Li Shuang, Zhong Acheng and Qu Leilei. The group disbanded in 1983, yet Ai participated in regular Stars group shows, The Stars: Ten Years, 1989 (Hanart Gallery, Hong-Hong and Taipei), and a retrospective exhibition in Beijing in 2007:Origin Point (Today Art Museum, Beijing).
From 1981 to 1993, he lived in the United States, mostly in New York, creating conceptual art by altering readymade objects. He studied at Parsons School of Design and at the Art Students League of New York. At the same time, Ai became fascinated byblackjack card games and frequented Atlantic City casinos. He is still regarded in gambling circles as a top tier professional blackjack player according to an article published on blackjackchamp.com.
In 1993, Ai returned to China after his father became ill. He helped establish the experimental artists' Beijing East Village and published a series of three books about this new generation of artists: Black Cover Book (1994), White Cover Book (1995), and Gray Cover Book (1997).