Ai Weiwei is featured in one of the largest exhibitions in the UK in nearly a decade, with his large scale works on display in the Design Museum in London later this year.

Ai Weiwei grew up with his father in political exile, and has always been openly critical of the Chinese Government. He has investigated corruption and cover-ups, and was arrested and held in 2011 for unspecified ‘economic crimes’ after exposing embezzlement that led to the collapse of many schools in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. He has always expressed his political conviction in art, be it sculpture, photography, or public works.

In 2006, the Chinese government commissioned Ai Weiwei to help design the famous ‘Bird’s Nest” stadium for the 2008 Olympics. Then in 2011 during his imprisonment and again in 2018, the same government physically destroyed two of his studios: one in Shanghai and the other in Beijing.

His upcoming exhibition in the Design Museum will include five expansive ‘fields’ of objects laid out on the floor. Collected by Ai Weiwei since the 1990s, these hundreds of thousands of objects will include stone age tools, Lego bricks, and the rubble of his own demolished studios and the artworks destroyed with them. The collection is a result of the artist’s endless fascination with the artifacts of craftsmanship, and the array is meant to be a lens through which we consider what we value.

(The inclusion of Lego is interesting, as Lego the company refused to collaborate with him in using their toys to create portraits of political prisoners, so thousands were donated to him by individuals instead.)

Design Museum chief curator Justin McGirk said the destruction of the studios and the loss of cultural memory was “very much one of the themes of this show”.

“The tension between handmade and industrial made is really the change that’s happened in China over the last 30 years, the tremendous scale of urbanization and development, which brought with it a lot of destruction a lot of devaluing of history, a lot of wiping away of traditional streetscapes and architectures,” he added.

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