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(Photo by Jesse Chehak)

Ai Weiwei, the soft-spoken provocateur

The Chinese artist on confrontation, 'America First' and the importance of change

Marisa Mazria Katz | China

In 2005 Ai Weiwei wrote his first blog post: “To express yourself needs a reason; expressing yourself is the reason.” It marked a new chapter in the already storied career of the artist, whose personal musings on freedom of expression and social injustice have attracted millions of fans. It also drew sharp rebukes from the Chinese government, including being detained for nearly three months in 2011.

Ai has the uncanny ability to dovetail his art with scathing critiques of government wrongdoing, such as stringing 9,000 backpacks across the facade of Munich’s Haus der Kunst to call out China for its complicity in the deaths of thousands of children in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake because of shoddily constructed schools. This combination has elevated his profile far beyond the rarefied art world.

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