Ai Weiwei: New York Photographs 1983–1993 consists of 227 black-and-white photographs taken by the artist during the decade that he resided in New York City, his first time away from China. The photographs were personally selected by the artist from over 10,000 negatives that are housed at Three Shadows Photography Art Center in Beijing and together represent a single work of art—no one image is more important than another. The exhibition is complemented by a 43-minute video interview with Ai Weiwei by Zheng Shengtian and videographer Don Li-Leger that discusses his growing up during the Cultural Revolution and his time in New York.
Born in 1957, Ai Weiwei grew up in China during the Cultural Revolution. The New York photographs, presented in chronological order, form a layering of narratives that reflect a time when the artist was settling into a city and culture that was completely new to him. Subsequent narratives emerge through his interactions with friends and acquaintances arriving from China, the meeting of new friends in New York such as Allen Ginsberg, his observation of rampant poverty in the East Village neighbourhood where he lived, and his images of political demonstrations and celebratory festivals taking place in New York at the time. While Ai Weiwei’s intention was not to be a documentarian, this body of work nonetheless has become a personal and impressionistic diary that represents a specific historical moment in a city that was experiencing significant social change.
Ai Weiwei is among the most widely recognized artists in the world today. He is known not only for his artwork but also for his commitment to human rights and freedom of expression in China. The photographs in this exhibition represent a young artist exploring both personal relationships and a culture in which public demonstration is part of the social process, an experience that would serve as a precursor to his relationship with China following his return there in 1993.
Ai Weiwei: New York Photographs 1983–1993 is organized in collaboration with Three Shadows Photography Art Center, Beijing and Chambers Fine Art in New York and Beijing. It has been made possible with funding from the Canada Council for the Arts and the Belkin Curator’s Forum.
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