Ai Weiwei at Tate Modern

Yesterday I revisited the Tate Modern. I had a couple of hours to kill, and had debated going to the Imperial War Museum instead, but I wasn't so much in the mood for war.

I explored many of the same rooms I'd explored only a day or two earlier, but I managed to stumble upon at least a few rooms that I'd overlooked during my first visit, the most timely and impressive of which was Ai Weiwei's Sunflower Seeds installation.

Weiwei is a Chinese artist and political dissident who earlier this year was arrested and detained by the Chinese government, an arrest that was met with loud protest from the international community. After a few months in detention, he was released on bail in June, less than a week after I left Beijing. While in Beijing, I visited the art district where Weiwei keeps his studio, although his studio was (and may still be) closed by Chinese authorities.

Sunflower Seeds is a mound of handmade porcelain sunflower seeds, and not just a small mound, but probably one meter high and five meters in circumference. The scale of it speaks to the mass production so common in China, and the sunflower seeds themselves have dual meaning: during the time of Mao, it's my understanding that the Chinese people were sometimes portrayed as sunflower seeds in propaganda artwork, seeds gravitating toward Chairman Mao; also, sunflower seeds are a common snack for the working class in China, and when you think of the working class, you don't think of handmade porcelain or fine China.

I've seen some of Weiwei's artwork elsewhere in my travels, although I can't recall exactly where: maybe Taiwan, or Berlin, but probably not China: not always aesthetically pleasing, but brave.