Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
Although I consider myself politically minded my knowledge of the international political scene is somewhat lacking, particularly the inexorable rise of China to superpower status. Fortunately, Alison Klayman’s documentary AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY is on hand to try and embellish my knowledge by presenting one small aspect of this political and cultural tale. Focusing on a man who has made headlines around the world, the film is a fascinating portrait of an individual blurring the lines between art, activism and politics.
With what appears to be an enormous amount of access to Ai’s life, Klayman follows him as he prepares for art exhibits around the world (mainly shown here are the lead ups to ‘So Sorry’ at Haus der Kunst in Munich and ‘Sunflower Seeds’ at Tate Modern) and maintains a commentary on the activities of the Chinese authorities on social media and the internet. One of his larger projects is the collection of the names of school children killed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, allegedly as a result of shoddy school construction covered up by authorities. In terms of the narrative of the film, Klayman follows Ai right up until his controversial 81-day detention in April 2011, ostensibly on charges relating to tax irregularities.
Throughout, there are many individuals on hand to discuss the significance of Ai’s work – although often what communicates is clear. It becomes apparent that Ai Weiwei is a provocative and often blunt artist, with his outspoken nature getting him into constant trouble with government officials.
…one man alone cannot hope to engender large scale political change. However, the depiction of a man using art to display his frustration at the course the country he loves is taking is often inspiring.
Some viewers may be frustrated by the lack of analysis of the wider political backdrop, but the focus is very much on the influence and impact of Ai himself rather than an all-encompassing commentary on the People’s Republic of China. Having said this, it is perhaps disappointing that there isn’t more examination of his private life. The worry his mother clearly carries and his extramaritally conceived child feel rather skimmed over. The latter is highlighted when Ai himself dryly corrects the BBC Arts Editor, Will Gompertz, upon a suggestion that Ai’s wife perhaps doesn’t mind this. In addition, a more comprehensive look at Ai’s time in New York City in the 80s and early 90s, and how it has informed his art and politics, would have added another dimension.
However, it is plain to see why the focus of the film lies where it does. In helping the viewer to better understand this complex contemporary figure, Klayman’s film has done an excellent job – providing a great deal of fascinating information and insight into the attitudes of Ai Weiwei, and those who surround him. It is repeatedly stated that Ai Weiwei is one of many persecuted critics, and one man alone cannot hope to engender large scale political change. However, this depiction of a man using art to display his frustration at the course the country he loves is taking is often inspiring. If you are not in the slightest bit moved by it, then perhaps political and artistic apathy has sadly taken hold.
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