Pocket Dissent

Ai Weiwei’s Notes About
a World That Needs to End

‘You know, if they can do this to me, they can do this to anybody.’ That’s part of one of the most revealing aphorisms of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s latest book, aptly named Weiwei-isms, edited by Larry Warsh and published by the Princeton University Press.
It encapsulates the three main characters inhabiting his quotes: himself, the Chinese government, and everybody else. It also offers a glimpse of the oversized ambitions of this little book: to discuss the state’s exacerbated role on the lives of his fellow citizens.
Its format and fluidity are in fact deceptive, as they mask Ai’s larger proposition as an artist at odds with his country’s idea of society, and with a great many Chinese, who may hardly understand the motivations behind his avowed intention to speak for them.
The quotes, organized in themes such as freedom of expression, art and activism, power and morality, and the digital world, may at times resort to short, staccato-like sentences, just like on Tweeter, a social tool Ai’s mastered and praises in the book.
Others convey his ambivalence about having unwillingly become an international personality. His constant jabs at China’s authoritarian regime often betray bemusement at being singled out by it. His global exposure, thus, is both a bliss and a curse.
A land that rejects the truth, barricades itself against change, and lacks the spirit of freedom, is hopeless,‘ he denounces. Even though not one to play the martyr card, Ai nevertheless relishes in a self-appointed role of spokesperson for the voiceless.
If there’s one who’s not free, then I’m not free. If there’s one who suffers, then I suffer,’ may sound a tad messianic. But it’s also a gutsy stand, in that it ignites a long overdue discussion about the politics of individual liberties in his country.

When Ai Weiwei was born in 1957, his father Ai Qing, a well known poet, was facing a public campaign of defamation that was to last some Continue reading