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Ai Weiwei's Biography

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Ai Weiwei was born in 1957 in Beijing, China, the son of the poet Ai Qing, who fell foul of the authorities and shortly after Weiwei's birth was exiled to Heilongjiang (Manchuria), and then to Xinjiang, where the family lived in a pit and Ai Qing cleaned the village's public toilets.

When Ai Weiwei was 19, the family were allowed to move back to Beijing.

In 1978, Ai Weiwei became a member of Xing Xing (The Stars), one of the first avant-garde art groups in China.

In 1981, he moved to the USA where he supported himself by amongst other things successful card playing sessions!

During his time in New York, Ai Weiwei moved from being a painter to transforming everyday objects into conceptual works.

In 1993, Ai Weiwei returned to China and co-founded the Chinese Art Archive & Warehouse (CAAW), a non-profit loft-gallery in Beijing.

Ai Weiwei has had numerous solo exhibitions.

His famous work includes being co-designer of the Beijing Olympic stadium, the Bird's Nest, although he did not attend the Olympics and described the opening ceremony as "a visual crap-pile of phony affection and hypocritical unctuousness ... an encyclopaedia of spiritual subjugation".

Ai Weiwei's other famous works include Sunflower Seeds, an exhibition at London's Tate Modern, which comprised 100 million hand-painted porcelain seeds.

His controversial work Colored Vases transformed 50 neolithic vases by covering them in industrial paint.

He has also taken numerous photographs including a famous one of his wife-to-be, Lu Qing, lifting her skirt in Tiananmen Square.

Ai Weiwei, who once said "All people have a responsibility to speak their opinion on things", has often been at odds with the Chinese authorities.

In 2008 following a huge earthquake in Sichuan province, Ai Weiwei wrote a series of blog posts, "at first grief-stricken and then increasingly angry as it became apparent that school buildings throughout the region had been disproportionately affected by the earthquake."

In 2011 Ai Weiwei was held in detention in China, having disappeared on 3 April, as he was about to board a plane in Beijing.

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation set up a petition to call for the release of Ai Weiwei.

In October 2011, Ai Weiwei was named the most powerful person in the art world by ArtReview magazine.

In 2013, although he no longer topped the ArtReview countdown, which was headed by Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Ai Weiwei was the highest placed artist and ninth overall.

In July 2015, the UK Home Secretary, Theresa May ordered that Ai Weiwei be issued a full six-month UK visa, reversing a controversial decision not to grant him that visa, but only one of 20 days.

In 2020 he was scheduled to direct Puccini's Turandot at the Teatro dell'Opera in Rome.

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