Ai Weiwei (2017)© Judith Benhamou-Huet

Ai Weiwei announces his most personal show yet, based on his father

The artist’s new solo show bridges the east and the west in homage to the first time his father left China

Ai Weiwei’s work has often centred around his identity as a Chinese person, detailing his abuse at the hands of the government, and the injustices dealt to his fellow citizens – such as the victims of the Sichuan earthquake. In recent years, he’s extended his empathy, and his platform, to the plight of refugees looking to make new, safer lives in Europe. His latest show, however, is his most personal yet and centring his father, the acclaimed Chinese poet Ai Qing.

In China, Qing was considered a radical, a denounced traitor, and accused rightest. In 1933, he was tortured and imprisoned for “involvement in activities in the League of Left-wing Artists” (a group which promoted socialist realism), and in 1957 – when Ai Weiwei was a baby – the poet was exiled from Beijing for two decades. The family lived in Heilongjiang, followed by Xinjiang, and Qing was forced to clean public toilets. It not only cost him his dignity but it took his eyesight, as reported by Ai Weiwei, due to lack of nutrition. Weiwei was 18 when the family were allowed to return to Beijing, the seeds of rebellion and a distrust for the government sown in his mind.

The show uses Ai Qing’s journey to Marseille, France, as a jump-off. In 1929, the poet landed on the docks of La Joliette, a stone’s throw from the Mucem gallery where Ai Weiwei will host the show. It was Ai Qing’s first time in the west. He had left China to study in Paris and would stay there until 1932, learning about artists such as Van Gogh, but also German philosophers, Emmanuel Kant and G.W.F Hegel (Kant and Hegel), and the poetry of Russia’s Vladimir Mayakovsky and Belgian’s Émile Verhaeren.

Fan-Tan will feature 50 artworks from Ai Weiwei, two of which are new. These will be juxtaposed with 50 objects from the Mucem’s collection in an attempt to show the parallels between the east and the west, as well as ideas of ‘original’ and ‘copy’, ‘art’ and ‘craft’, ‘destruction’ and ‘conservation’”. The show release says that “above all, they challenge the relevance of our systems of interpretation”. Works included are images from “Study of Perspective” (1995-2011), “Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn” (2015), as well as “Surveillance Camera with Plinth” (2015).

The show – his first large-scale solo show in France – will also hark back to Ai Weiwei’s own artistic roots, by presenting some of his earliest pieces (“Safe Sex” and “Violin”) which were realised in the 1980s, when he first left China to live in the west himself, in New York while in his 20s.

The Mucem says that in preparation for the show, Weiwei visited the La Joliette port in Marseille in an attempt to trace his father’s footsteps, even finding the log book for the boat that Ai Qing had travelled from China to France on.

The title Fan-Tan also “refers to an English army tank which operated on French soil during the First World War”, as well as the name of a local betting game in China, similar to roulette. With the Mucem explaining that Weiwei’s choice to name the show Fan-Tan is in reference the “chaotic relations between France and China at the end of the 19th century and the beginning o the 20th century”. 

Fan-Tan – curated by Judith Benhamou-Huet – will run at France’s Mucem from 20 June – 12 November 2018

Read our full-length interview with Ai Weiwei here

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