It’s strange when you stumble upon something–a book, a movie, a person, idea–and it changes your whole concept of the world. It happened to me just now when I watched this PBS Frontline profile of the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. I simply did not know that he existed. And now that I know he exists, it seems he doesn’t exist–his whereabouts have been unknown since April 3rd, with most people suspecting that the Chinese authorities are detaining him.
Below is an installation he did of 9000 children’s backpacks, a response to the children who died in poorly constructed government schools in the Sichuan province earthquake in 2008. The backpacks spell out a sentence that a mother told Ai about her daughter: “She lived happily for seven years in the world.”
What the PBS profile really gets across is that Ai puts his life in danger doing provocative, controversial things. He doesn’t mind risking his life to try to fight unjust things. At the end of the profile, the filmmaker asks Ai, “Do you ever examine yourself to say, why is it that you are so fearless compared to other people?” And he says, “I’m so fearful, that’s not fearless. I’m more fearful than other people maybe. I act more brave because I know the danger is really there. If you don’t act, the danger becomes stronger.”