When I first entered the Sakıp Sabancı Museum to visit Ai Weiwei’s exhibition, I wasn’t expecting to be amused.
Ai Weiwei On Porcelain
I looked at the title on the wall and took a deep sigh. After all, what could be interesting about “porcelain”, right? It reminded me of teacups.
Thankfully, Ai Weiwei proved me wrong. As I walked through the exhibition I came to the conclusion that Ai Weiwei is one of the most brilliant artists I’ve had the chance to discover.
Weiwei is a Chinese contemporary artist born in 1957 (older than I expected!). He is not only an artist but also a political activist who openly criticizes the anti-democratic regime of the Chinese government through his artwork. After high school, he left China to study in the United States and became highly influenced by artists such as Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol.
The reason that Weiwei concentrates on porcelain in his Sakıp Sabancı exhibition is due to its significant role in Ottoman-Chinese relations. Every piece has a meaningful message to convey, be it a reaction to ongoing political events or a commentary on the current human condition.
Because of the controversy his art created, Weiwei was arrested multiple times by the demand of the Chinese government but never stopped fighting for what he believed in.
So, on to my experience:
This is what happens when you first look at Weiwei’s artwork: You think to yourself, “Ooh, this looks really pretty/ cool/ absurd…” Then, you read the meaning behind the piece and boom! your mind is blown. At least, that’s what happened to me.
Here are some of the work I was truly impressed by. I also included the stories behind them, so I could help you get to know Weiwei better. Let’s start our journey:
Fragments of Blue-and-White Dragon Bowl:
Yes, this is a shattered porcelain bowl. But, it’s not only a shattered porcelain bowl. In this work, Weiwei challenges our notions of value and attitudes towards the preservation of cultural relics. This work recalls the worst excesses of the Cultural Revolution in China, when the state urged the people to destroy their past. (Sabancı Museum)
Hanging Man in Porcelain (Gold):
This is a portrait of Marcel Duchamp, who, as I mentioned before, was an influencer of Weiwei’s work. Using a simple coat hanger as his sole tool, Weiwei successfully expresses Dadaism from his own perspective.
Free Speech Puzzle:
In this work, Weiwei created a map of China using porcelain ornaments. On the ornaments, is the word “Free Speech” inscribed, which reflects his opinion on the ongoing struggle for freedom of expression in China. The ornaments are based on Chinese pendants worn by the emperor dating back to the Qing Dynasty. (Sabancı Museum)
This is one of the most eye-pleasing works of Weiwei. He dipped Neolithic and Han dynasty urns into industrial paint in order to make us question the authenticity, the value, and the meaning of an original work. He also criticizes the Cultural Revolution’s obliteration of the past and the standardizing effect of the current economic landscape in contemporary China. (Sabancı Museum)
Study of Perspective:
These photographs probably became the most famous artwork of Weiwei in Istanbul, as every single person posts it on their Instagram. Weiwei’s arm is extended with the middle finger raised against sites of cultural and political power around the world, demanding viewers to challenge their own unquestioning deference towards authority, governments, and institutions. It highlights the individual’s existence in a system. (Sabancı Museum)
This photograph has a pretty interesting story: Illumination represents Weiwei’s early use of social media as a form of activism. He took this selfie when he was arrested in his hotel room. As he was forced to enter the elevator, he captured the mirrored reflection of his captors. He shared this image on social media, spreading awareness on what had happened to him that night. (Sabancı Museum)
Flowers For Freedom:
Flowers For Freedom is an art project consisting of several pieces: Blossom, Bicycle Basket with Flowers in Porcelain, Flower Plates and With Flowers. In response to his arrest in 2011, Weiwei announced that he would begin placing a bouquet of fresh flowers in the bicycle basket outside his studio every day until his passport was returned. He posted photographs of the flowers on his social media accounts. His followers showed their support with the hashtag #FlowersForFreedom. The project concluded on 22 July 2015, following the return of the artist’s passport. (Sabancı Museum). This collection of artwork reflects the influence of art and social media on activism in the 21st century.
From three-dimensional Naturaleza muerta‘s (Still Life) to giant bowls of rice, Ai Weiwei has many more masterpieces to present to its visitors at the Sakıp Sabancı Art Museum.
Weiwei is a creative genius that is able to visually entertain us with his oddly brilliant art and also encourage us to question our identity in society. He successfully tells the story of his life through his artwork and calls his audience to join his cause. Weiwei bluntly expresses his opinions on universal issues and asks questions most are scared to ask. He also uses social media like a bad-ass.
He admirably says: “My definition of art has always been the same. It is about freedom of expression, a new way of communication. It is never about exhibiting in museums or about hanging it on the wall. Art should live in the heart of the people. Ordinary people should have the same ability to understand art as anybody else. I don’t think art is elite or mysterious. I don’t think anybody can separate art from politics. The intention to separate art from politics is itself a very political intention.”
Weiwei is an artist with a social mission who wants his voice to be heard by everyone around the world. He desires to break social norms and promote change.
Ai Weiwei on Porcelain is an exhibition every person, whether they enjoy art or not, should visit. Every artwork has a unique story, allowing visitors to analyze the world from a new and intriguing perspective.
An inspiring journey that should not be missed…