Ai Weiwei gives world his middle finger

Ai Weiwei - Study of Perspective – Tiananmen“, 1995-2010, C-Print, 32,5 x 43,5 cm
Ai WeiweiStudy of Perspective, Tiananmen, 1995-2010, C-Print, 32,5×43,5cm

About Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei is a Chinese artist and activist. He has been vocal and openly critical of the Chinese government’s stance on democracy and human rights. His work has captured global attention and served to bring attention to social injustices, human rights violations and systemic violence. Ai never shies away from saying what he truly feels and he encourages people to state exactly what they want. And that’s what he did in his project named Study of Perspective.

‘Study of Perspective’

Study of Perspective is a photographic series produced by Ai Weiwei, taking place between 1995 and 2017. Throughout the series, viewers see Ai’s left arm extended forward with the middle finger raised to significant institutions, landmarks and monuments from around the world. These pictures mimic tourist’s photos and encourage people to question their adherence and acceptance towards governments, institutions and establishments. This series speaks out about Ai’s beliefs regarding freedom of speech, empowerment of the people, and democratic values, and showcases his activist side in true colors.

The meaning of the work

Most of the time the institutions he is pointing towards are the ones that tend to stop or abide free speech, people empowerment or the democratic values in our society. Ai constantly shows a reminder that we need to represent our own values and not those created by others. Instead of using a flat surface to showcase his ideas, the artist focuses on the idea of interjecting his photos with a way to protest against many of the things that go wrong in China1 and other countries. That’s why he only points at buildings, not at people. He understands that people are the ones that will be able to change things and move them around in a truly interesting manner. Most of the time the institutions he is pointing towards are the ones that tend to stop or abide free speech, people empowerment or the democratic values in our society.

Ai Weiwei - Never Sorry, Study of Perspective, directed by Alison Klayman
Still from the documentary Never Sorry, 2012, directed by Alison Klayman

Different locations

The first in this series was shot in Tiananmen Square in 1995, where during the 1989 democracy movement protests hundreds to thousands of unarmed protesters were killed. In Study of Perspective – Tiananmen Square, the photo first appears to be a classic tourist photo in which Ai sticks his middle finger up at Tiananmen Square Gate. This offensive gesture reveals Ai’s disdain for the Communist China rulers and what they stood for. Other landmarks featured in Ai’s series include the White House in Capitol Hill, Washington D.C., the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and The Reichstag in Berlin. The gesture is the focal point of the photo, as the objects that are closer to the eye appear larger, thus his statement is the key point in the photo.

Consequences

The series achieved worldwide recognition following Ai posting the images on his blog2 (2005-2009). Due to its popularity, Ai was detained and questioned at length in 20113 by the Chinese police, with all the questions, pointed towards the Tiananmen photo. Following Ai’s detention, other people began to post similar images of themselves on the internet as a signal of solidarity. His work has not only brought attention to a number of social issues but has garnered support and inspired other activities. Of course, the Tiananmen photo is totally banned4 from appearing in any Chinese media.

Conclusion

Study of Perspective will help you double think your allegiances and re-adjust your feelings regarding many important institutions in our society.

‘Study of perspective’ in Asia

Ai Weiwei - Study of Perspective 1995-2011, 2014 Shanghai Lujiazui, 2003 50 x 66,6 cm
Ai WeiweiStudy of Perspective, Shanghai Lujiazui, 2003, 50×66,6cm

Ai Weiwei - Study of Perspective 1995-2011, 2014 Zuo You Studio, Beijing, China, 2007 50 x 75 cm
Ai WeiweiStudy of Perspective, Zuo You Studio, Beijing, China, 2007, 50x75cm

Ai Weiwei - Study of Perspective, Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China 1995, 1995–2011; gelatin silver photograph; various dimensions
Ai WeiweiStudy of Perspective, Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China, 1995, gelatin silver photograph

Ai Weiwei - Study of Perspective, Hong Kong
Ai WeiweiStudy of Perspective, Hong Kong

Ai Weiwei – Study of Perspective, Xinjiang, China, 1995
Ai WeiweiStudy of Perspective, Xinjiang, China, 1995

‘Study of perspective’ in Australia

Ai Weiwei - Study of Perspective, Sydney Opera House, 2006, 1995 – 2011
Ai WeiweiStudy of Perspective, Sydney Opera House, 2006

‘Study of perspective’ in Europe

Ai Weiwei - Study of Perspective – Eiffel Tower, 1995-2003, Gelatin silver print, 38.9x59cm
Ai WeiweiStudy of Perspective, Eiffel Tower, 1995-2003, Gelatin silver print, 38.9x59cm

Ai Weiwei - Study of Perspective, Study of perspective - Eiffel Tower, 1999, 90x127cm
Ai WeiweiStudy of Perspective, Eiffel Tower, 1999, 90x127cm, Paris

Ai Weiwei - Study of Perspective, Mona Lisa, 1995-2003
Ai WeiweiStudy of Perspective, Mona Lisa, 1995-2003, Paris

Ai Weiwei - Study of Perspective 1995-2011, 2014 Colosseum, Rome, Italy, 2003 50 x 66,6 cm
Ai WeiweiStudy of Perspective, Colosseum, Rome, Italy, 50×66,6cm

Ai Weiwei - Study of Perspective, San Marco
Ai WeiweiStudy of Perspective, San Marco

Ai Weiwei - Study of Perspective, Sagrada Familia
Ai WeiweiStudy of Perspective, Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

Ai-Weiwei - Study of Perspective, Study of Perspective, 1995 - 2011
Ai WeiweiStudy of Perspective, 1995-2011, Valle de los Caídos, Spain

Ai Weiwei - Study of Perspective, Volksbühne, 2016
Ai WeiweiStudy of Perspective, Volksbühne, Berlin, Germany, 2016

Ai Weiwei - Study of Perspective - Berne 1995-2003Ai WeiweiStudy of Perspective, Berne

Ai Weiwei - Study of Perspective, Helsinki Cathedral, 2001
Ai WeiweiStudy of Perspective, Helsinki Cathedral, 2001

Ai Weiwei – Study of Perspective, Viking Line, 2001Ai WeiweiStudy of Perspective, Viking Line, 2001

‘Study of perspective’ in the US

Ai Weiwei - Study of Perspective - White House, 1995 - 2003
Ai WeiweiStudy of Perspective, White House, 1995-2003, Washington, D.C.

Ai Weiwei - Study of Perspective, White House
Ai WeiweiStudy of Perspective, White House

Ai Weiwei – Study of Perspective, Trump Tower, New York City, USA, 2017
Ai WeiweiStudy of Perspective, Trump Tower, New York City, USA, 2017

Ai Weiwei - Study of Perspective 1995-2011, 2014 Ocean, Miami, FL, USA, 2006 50 x 66,6 cm
Ai WeiweiStudy of Perspective, Ocean, Miami, FL, USA, 2006, 50×66,6cm

Ai Weiwei - Study of Perspective, New York City
Ai WeiweiStudy of Perspective, New York City

Middlefinger sculpture

Ai Weiwei - Untitled, from Study of Perspective series, 2017. Electroplated rhodium on cast urethane resin 5 x 4-1:2 x 4-1:2 inches. Limited edition of 1,000
Ai WeiweiUntitled from Study of Perspective, 2017. Electroplated rhodium on cast urethane resin, 5 x 4-1/2 x 4-1/2 inches
Limited edition of 1,000

Exhibition photos

Ai Weiwei - Study of Perspective – 1995-2011, 2014. Black-and-white and Colour prints, Dimensions variable. Photo by Paris Tavitian © Museum of Cycladic Art
Ai WeiweiStudy of Perspective – 1995-2011, 2014. Black-and-white and Colour prints, Dimensions variable, Museum of Cycladic Art, Athens, Greece
Photo: Paris Tavitian

Ai Weiwei - Study of Perspective – 1995-2011, 2014. Black-and-white and Colour prints, Dimensions variable. Photo by Paris Tavitian © Museum of Cycladic Art
Ai WeiweiStudy of Perspective – 1995-2011, 2014. Black-and-white and Colour prints, Dimensions variable, Museum of Cycladic Art, Athens, Greece
Photo: Paris Tavitian

Visitors look at Chinese artist Ai Weiwei's piece 'Study of Perspective' (1995-2011), exhibition 'Maybe, Maybe Not' at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem on June 1, 2017
Visitors look at Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s piece Study of Perspective – 1995-2011 at exhibition ‘Maybe, Maybe Not’ at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem on June 1, 2017
Photo: AFP/Thomas Coex

Other important works by Ai Weiwei

Related readings

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_issues_in_China
  2. https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/ai-weiweis-blog
  3. https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2011/apr/03/ai-weiwei-detained-chinese-police
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_censorship_in_China#Tiananmen_Square_protest_of_1989
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