Ai Weiwei Exhibition at the Royal Academy Review…

Ai Weiwei Exhibition at the Royal Academy

On entering the Exhibition, it felt like China had come to the Royal Academy. Despite the volume of people at the venue, and considering that a large amount of curation took place out of the country, the exhibits worked in harmony with the grandeur of each room. The general theme I felt throughout the exhibition was the use of traditional Chinese craftsmanship methods, and the materials sourced that added to the narrative of the works. What Ai wanted to address within this body of work is comment on creative freedom, censorship and human rights (Royal Academy of Arts, 2015).

Straight (2008-12) is a prime example of materials being used to add to the narrative of the work. Being made of the rebar from the collapsed buildings hit by the Sichuan earthquake in 2008. Each length was hammered up to 200 times each, reforming them into their original state. Hudson talks about this work as initially being an `abstract physical object` (Hudson, 2015) until you realise the connection between the material and the names on the wall in the same room. I thought this added a whole new significance to the work. The lives being lost for ever, but the rebar could be brought back to its original state.

In Fragments (2005) beams and pillars from demolished Qing Dynasty temples have been reassembled into a map of China’s borders. Aviva talks about Ai exploring the marriage between ancient discarded objects and modern aesthetics being a vessel for exploring the cultural and spatial transformations of modern China. In the use of this material, this again adds huge gravitas to the narrative of this work, the history and authenticity being reinforced.


BBC News (2013) Sichuan 2008: A disaster on an immense scale. At: (Accessed 4/11/15)

Hudson, Mark (2015) Ai Weiwei, Royal Academy, review: ‘immensely impressive’ At: (Accessed 29/10/15)

Locke, Adrian. (2015) Ai Weiwei. London: Royal Academy of Arts

Royal Academy of Art.(2015) Major artist and cultural phenomenon Ai Weiwei takes over our main galleries At: (Accessed 29/10/15)

Royal Academy of Arts. (2015) Put Your Questions to Ai Weiwei. At: (Accessed 29/10/15)

Shen, Aviva. (2012) Past and Present Clash in Ai WeiWei’s “Fragments” At: (Accessed 5/11/15)

Sooke, Alastair. (2015). Ai Weiwei interview: “I would not separate my art from my so-called activism” At: (Accessed 2/11/15)

Yeung, Peter. (2015) Ai Weiwei: a tumultuous timeline. (Accessed 2/11/15)


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