The Remarkable Ai Weiwei & his Bicycle

Ai Weiwei (born 1957) is a Chinese artist and activist who has been openly critical of the Chinese Government especially on issues of democracy, human rights and corruption. On the other hand he was the artistic consultant on the Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Ai Weiwei was imprisoned in 2011 for several months but eventually was allowed to leave China in 2015 and made his home in Germany. I believe he has now left Germany but I'm not sure where he is living. In 2016, Ai Weiwei wrapped 14,000 discarded refugee life vests around the pillars of Berlin's Konzerthaus venue to highlight the scale of migrants taking to the seas every day. (


In 2008 Ai Weiwei began using bicycles in his installations as we see in Very Yao below.
( (Credit: journal.Friedhelm Dentkeler)

Using the Company Forever Bicycles Ai Weiwei commemorated the controversial case of a young Beijing resident, Yang Jia, who was arrested on charges of stealing a bike in 2007 and gained public sympathy for speaking out against the police harassment he said he suffered. Mr. Yang later killed six Shanghai police officers and was executed in 2008, but to many Chinese he remained a symbol of the individual standing up against government injustice. (

Ai Weiwei has also recognised in Very Yao the influence on his work of French-American artist Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) who made a seminal contribution on conceptual art and was an activist himself. More on Duchamp at a later date. This is Duchamp's famous Bicycle Wheel sculpture created in 1951.

But the use of bicycles by Ai Weiwei is far more complicated than recognition of another artist. The bicycle for Ai is a symbol of freedom and by making these bicycle installations he is recognising the significant role this form of transport plays in Chinese daily life. This is his Forever Bicycles installation at the National Gallery Victoria.

And below is another Forever Bicycle installation- this one in the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, Taiwan

Returning to the refugee crisis, Ai Weiwei created The Law of the Journey in 2018 on Cockatoo Island for the 21st Biennale of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.

( Please follow this link for a more in-depth analysis of The Law of the Journey.

We will conclude today with Ai Weiwei's creation Sunflower Seeds installed in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern in 2010. If you are thinking How easy is that. I could fill a hall with seeds!. Each one of these life-sized sunflower seed husks has in fact been intricately hand-crafted in porcelain: all individuall sculptured and painted. How many? One Hundred Million!!
What does this all mean? To quote from the Tate: Porcelain is almost synonymous with China and, to make this work, Ai Weiwei has manipulated traditional methods of crafting what has historically been one of China’s most prized exports. Sunflower Seeds invites us to look more closely at the ‘Made in China’ phenomenon and the geo-politics of cultural and economic exchange today. (

The Hero Image today shows Ai Weiwei at the unveiling of Forever Bicycles, consists of 1,245 bicycle frames, outside the Gherkin building in London.

Anne Newman

Oil Painter in realistic genre style, predominantly buildings and people. To continue the discussion contact Anne on or phone +61 407 516 522

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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