Weiwei is perhaps best known for his design for the Beijing National (Olympic) stadium (the “Bird’s Nest”). In October last year Sunflower Seeds opened at the Tate Modern Turbine Hall – one hundred million porcelain “seeds” scattered over a large area of the exhibition hall, each individually hand-painted in the town of Jingdezhen by 1,600 Chinese artisans.
Weiwei is also well known for his outspoken social commentary. After the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, he used his celebrity to assemble volunteers in the disaster area who controversially compiled a list of children who died in the disaster. The project was aimed at drawing attention to structural problems with the schools. Twenty schools collapsed killing more than 5,000 children, all of which had buildings next to them that remained standing. For his efforts, he was arrested, beaten and prevented from testifying at the trial of another activist charged with inciting the subversion of state power.
Earlier this month, Weiwei appeared on the steps of a Beijing courthouse in silent protest against the arrest and trial of artist Wu Yuren who has also had his studio expropriated by the Chinese government. Both artists were signatories to Charter 8, a manifesto demanding a variety of political changes in China including an independent legal system, freedom of association and the elimination of one-party rule.
In December, shortly after the demolition of his studio was announced, Ai Weiwei was barred from leaving China. He has yet to make a public statement since the demolition of his studio.