Sunday, October 31, 2021

From Ai Weiwei's Memoirs

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has written a memoir in which, reviewers say, he connects his politics with his family life. His father Ai Qing was a rebel in his own way, a supporter of the communists who tried to write poetry that would resonate with the masses:

Ai’s story begins with his childhood, years of which were spent living with his father in the remote hinterlands of China, where Ai Qing was exiled in 1967 to do reform labor during Mao’s murderous purge of intellectuals. While his father was cleaning latrines, scraping feces that had frozen “into icy pillars,” 10-year-old Ai built the stove, fetched water from the well and endured a life that resembled “an open-ended course in wilderness survival training, if we were lucky enough to survive.” During countless “denunciation meetings” of which Ai Qing was a primary target, the author bore intimate witness to his father’s ritualized humiliation. “The estrangement and hostility that we encountered from the people around us instilled in me a clear awareness of who I was,” Ai writes, “and it shaped my judgment about how social positions are defined” — and the necessity of enemies in the rhetoric of revolution.

You can hardly read a single paragraph about Chinese politics without running into the horror of the Cultural Revolution. That catastrophe blighted the lives of many, many people, but especially intellectuals and artists. Eventually Ai Weiwei was jailed on charges eerily similar to those for which his father went to prison in the 1930s and was then exiled in the 1960s: essentially, making art that upsets the authorities. For Ai Weiwei, the struggle must go on: 

In the final pages of the book, Ai writes that “advocacy of freedom is inseparable from an effort to attain it, for freedom is not a goal but a direction, and it comes into being through the very act of resistance.” Remembering, too, is a form of resistance. In documenting the past, he is also repudiating the country’s generations of imposed amnesia. “After all the convulsions that China had experienced, genuine emotions and personal memory were reduced to tiny scraps and easily replaced by the discourse of struggle and continuous revolution,” Ai writes. In “1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows,” Ai does not allow his own scraps to remain buried. To unearth them is an act of unburdening, an open letter to progeny, a suturing of past and present. It is the refusal to be a pawn — and the most potent assertion of a self.

From the NY Times.

No comments: