Beijing Photographs, 1993-2003
400 pp., 11 x 11 in, 232 color photos, 382 b&w photos
- Published: February 19, 2019
An autobiography in pictures: photographs taken by Ai Weiwei that capture his emergence as the uniquely provocative artist that he is today.
Ai Weiwei: Beijing Photographs 1993–2003 is an autobiography in pictures. Ai Weiwei is China's most celebrated contemporary artist, and its most outspoken domestic critic. In April 2011, when Ai disappeared into police custody for three months, he quickly became the art world's most famous missing person. Since then, Ai Weiwei's critiques of China's repressive regime have ranged from playful photographs of his raised middle finger in front of Tiananmen Square to searing memorials to the more than 5,000 schoolchildren who died in shoddy government construction in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Against a backdrop of strict censorship, Ai has become a hero on social media to millions of Chinese citizens.
This book, prohibited from publication in China, offers an intimate look at Ai Weiwei's world in the years after his return from New York and preceding his imprisonment and global superstardom. The photographs capture Ai's emergence as the uniquely provocative artist that he is today. There is no more revealing portrait of Ai Weiwei's life in China than this.
The book contains more than 600 carefully sequenced images culled from an archive of more than 40,000 photographs taken by Ai: a narrative arc carefully shaped by an artist keenly aware of photography's ability to tell stories. It includes a shattering series of photographs taken between 1993 and 1996 devoted to the final illness and death of Ai's father Ai Qing. The book is a sequel to Ai Weiwei: New York 1983–1993, a privately published book that collected photographs taken by Ai during his years on the New York art scene.
In this follow up to Ai Weiwei: New York Photographs 1983–1993, Chinese artist, architect, and activist Ai crafts a fascinating, deeply personal photographic diary of life in Beijing from 1993 to 2003… Of particular interest to fans of Ai's work, this excellent collection is also a passionate cry for freedom of speech.
Ai Weiwei: Beijing Photographs 1993-2003 is a book for fans and scholars alike. It is a diary, and so it has that insight which only reveals itself when you know the public story. If you know the arc of that story, the diary adds tenor, counterpoint and unexpected harmony, as well as dissonance. It's a bit like reading the journals of important authors or looking at the sketchbooks of important painters—a bit like listening to recording studio outtakes. You don't start there. But you get there as fast as you can.
In more than 600 sequenced photographs, the iconic Chinese artist and dissident provides an intimate glimpse – which China has refused to publish – of the country that went on to imprison him for his criticism.
The New York Times Book Review