In his project The Papercut Portfolio Ai Weiwei blurs the lines between the political and the personal. Within the series he reflects upon his Chinese homeland, American culture, and his personal phases as an international artist. In eight artworks he captures different stages of his life and career. Including moments such as his time in New York, where he transitioned from a painter to a conceptual artist that would later achieve world recognition, his protest directed at the political establishment in Beijing in the form of a middle finger, and the wooden tower, his contribution to the 12th Documenta in Kassel. The series is a miniature retrospective of the last 40 years and a collection of controversial statements that have characterized the artist's creations from the very beginning of his career. It’s diverse, modern, and traditional at the same time.
By using this technique, the artist is continuing the tradition of Chinese paper cutting, an art form steeped in Chinese history and culture. On holidays and festive occasions, papercuts are hung about, not only to decorate houses but also in remembrance of important moments in history. The are no limits to the motifs that are depicted, they can be anything from plants, to animals, to mythological beings, to scenes from theatre, or simply ornamental. Paper cuttings have been traced back to the 4th century. In The Papercut Portofolio Ai Weiwei demonstrates his appreciation for the historic tradition of art making in his home country China, all while retaining his unmistakable flair for new interpretation. This concept links the papercuts with previous work by the artist. After all, Ai Weiwei has a history of creating artworks that reflect upon and reinterpret China’s historical and cultural goods and assets. In 2009, he took Han Dynasty vases, 2000 year old historical artifacts, and painted them in bright, flashy colors, radically modernizing them. And, if you look closely, you’ll realize that these vases can even be seen within The Papercut Portfolio, in works such as Cats and Dogs and Map of China.
Ai Weiwei is among the greats in contemporary art. His work is exhibited in internationally renowned museums and attracts tremendous media attention. He is also active as a film director, author, and curator. His entire oeuvre is characterized by critical dialogue, and his work aims to engage with social processes and spark discussion. For one installation on Berlin's Gendarmenmarkt, he used a myriad of life jackets to draw attention to the perilous journey so many African migrants are undertaking to cross the Mediterranean. He recently published an insightful documentary about the outbreak of the corona virus in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
In the late 1970s, Ai Weiwei studied at the Beijing Film Academy and founded a group of artists that eventually rebelled against the state-controlled cultural institutions and experimented with traditional art practices. After spending several years in the United States, during which he explored new art forms, he returned to China in the early 1990s and became increasingly involved in politics. From 2015 to 2019 he lived and worked in Berlin.