Photos: Tiffany Shum
Ai Weiwei is one of the world’s most influential artists and human rights activists, and one of China’s most formidable critics.
Ai Weiwei: Unbroken at the Gardiner Museum, features iconic ceramic works, including Sunflower Seeds and Coca Cola Vase, recent works in blue-and-white porcelain depicting the global refugee crisis, and objects in other media, including wood and marble, that playfully subvert notions of traditional craftsmanship and Chinese cultural identity with pointedly political imagery. The exhibition also marks the international debut of a new LEGO zodiac installation.
“Through his art and activism, Ai Weiwei calls attention to some of the most urgent and universal human rights issues, including freedoms of speech and migration. This exhibition explores how he has broken physical and symbolic boundaries throughout his career, and highlights how his message remains as crucial as ever, if not more so,” says Sequoia Miller, Chief Curator at the Gardiner Museum.
Ai Weiwei: Unbroken opened in Toronto amid heightened diplomatic tensions between Canada and China since the arrest of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou and the detainment of two Canadian citizens on suspicion of endangering state security.
“The Chinese government’s recent actions are unsurprising. They have been acting in their own way, with their own set of ideologies and practices, for the past 70 years,” says Ai Weiwei. “The West’s apparent conflict with the situation in China is because of its refusal to acknowledge its complicity in creating this monstrous regime.”
The exhibition is accompanied by an original publication featuring images from the exhibition as well as responses by seventeen contributors from a wide range of backgrounds—local activists, politicians, organizers, human rights workers, artists, and poets—connecting the show’s themes to Canadian voices and experiences. The contributors include Olivia Chow, former Member of Parliament; Gwen Benaway, Anishinaabe and Métis poet and activist; Henry Heng Lu, Chinese-Canadian curator and artist; Nadia Umadat, Child and Youth Counselor at the Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture; Kristyn Wong-Tam, City Councillor and human rights activist, and Itah Sadu, award-winning storyteller and author, and co-owner of A Different Booklist. The publication also features an essay by historian and critic Garth Clark, as well as a statement from Ai Weiwei highlighting the role of Western democracies in maintaining the authoritarian regime in China.
The Gardiner has partnered with Human Rights Watch, Ryerson University, and New Ho Queen, a Toronto-based queer Asian collective, to present an exciting roster of programs that delve deeper into the exhibition’s themes of social justice and boundary breaking.
Ai Weiwei: Unbroken will be on display at the Gardiner until June 9, 2019.