Thursday, March 20, 2014

Shepard Fairey: a portrait of Ai Weiwei

Street artist and graphic designer Shepard Fairey, known for creating the iconic “Obey Giant” stencil and President Barack Obama’s 2008 “HOPE” campaign poster, is back in the spotlight with another instantly identifiable image: Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei.
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The striking orange, red, and black portrait was made in collaboration with Friends of Ai Weiwei, the Los Angeles Times reports, and is intended to pressure the Chinese government into giving Ai his passport back. Ai is not the first artist to get a Fairey makeover: He created a pair of prints depicting Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring in a similarly stylized manner in 2010.

Fairey’s newest poster shows Ai with a cut on the side of his head, a reference to an injury the artist suffered at the hands of Chinese police in 2010. After being selected to design the National “Bird’s Nest” Stadium, the centerpiece of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, Ai ran afoul of the government for his outspoken political activism. He spent 81 days in prison in 2011, supposedly for tax evasion, leading to worldwide criticism of the Chinese government. Though Ai was eventually released on bail, he has been confined to his native country ever since.

“All energies of the international art world should be focused on raising awareness for Ai Weiwei, who is currently under house arrest in China, unable to travel and visit his exhibitions around the world,” urged Larry Warsh, a friend of the artist and founder of AW Asia, an organization promoting Chinese contemporary art, in an e-mail to artnet News. “All this merely for his creative activities—how would you feel if you were in that position?”

Proceeds from the sales of the poster (produced in a limited edition of 375), will fund Friends of Ai Weiwei’s efforts to help the artist and to promote free speech.

Although the artist can’t leave China, a traveling survey of his work, “Ai Weiwei: According to What?” (April 18–August 10), will soon make its final stop at the Brooklyn Museum. The show last appeared at the Pérez Art Museum Miami, where one of Ai’s Chinese vases was smashed by a disgruntled local artist, supposedly as a political statement. A show of all-new works, “Ai Weiwei—Evidence,” will also be on view at Berlin’s Martin-Gropius-Bau museum April 3–July 7.

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