Didem Doğan

Ai Weiwei exhibition in Sabanci Museum

The Sabanci Museum in Istanbul is hosting China’s internationally known artist Ai Weiwei. His exhibition ‘Ai Weiwei on porcelain’ is shown on three floors of the museum with several porcelain objects like broken plates, little stones, columns,… If you are not informed about his activism, his life story, his stance against the hegemonic power, the things you will see at the exhibition might not make much sense to you. On one of the floors you enter a room surrounded by walls on which you see the Greek and Egyptian replicas, in the middle of the space there are ceramic columns, one of the walls show the artist himself breaking a porcelain, symbolically ‘breaking an icon’. The work called Odyssey, referring to the ancient text, is taking today’s refugee crisis at the centre of the installation. Following the death of a Syrian refugee child he traveled to Lesbos, the Greek island and lied on the shore (some critics have defined his imitating the Syrian child refugee as a suicidal act). Another work of the artist is made by pieces of broken plates on each of which you see tiger figures, referring to a tiger taken out by human rights activists from the zoo during an occupation of Gaza strip. The highlight of the exhibition is a carpet made by thousands of small stones, they are actually sunflower seeds, referring to the leader of cultural revolution in China, Mao, his depiction as the sun and the people’s definition as the sunflowers looking at him. The artist himself is quite controversial; he has been in the news many times, usually supported by the international arts community. He was sentenced to house-arrest in his home country China; he is the son of a political figure as well, a poet who was also sentenced during to labour force during the strict regime and he was raised in this camp (his years in the US and returning to China and all related to his artistic career can be watched in a BBC documentary). In 2016 he cancelled his exhibition in Denmark due to country’s anti-refugee policies. However next year he made an exhibition in Israel Museum, in a country where thousands of African refugees are forced to quit. The activism has never been apart from his work. He says ‘my art is my life’.