We are taught most of our lives to be law-abiding citizens, to bite our tongue against authority and that meritocracy is pure. Add the racial stereotypes and cultural expectations of Asian to that, and the result becomes that Asian Americans are subjugated to being very, very submissive. However, contrary to the Model Minority Myth, the ascension of one of the world's most successful and famous artists, Ai Weiwei, is attributed to his outspoken resistance against the corrupt Chinese government and support for freedom of the Internet. As I view Ai Weiwei's current solo exhibition at The Brooklyn Museum, I question the tendency of institutions to frame Asian faces as exotic. Yes, Weiwei was born and raised in China, but the fact that he spent a formative 12 years in New York City as a struggling artist and hanging out with Allen Ginsberg is often overlooked. Can we view Asian artists as Asian American if they have lived and worked an influential 12 years in the U.S.? Or are people more comfortable packaging the artist as "exotic"?
Like many artists who move to New York with big dreams, Ai Weiwei spent 12 years in New York City (1981-1993) selling street portraits, working odd jobs, photographing the city (when he felt he had no chance succeeding in NYC galleries as a painter) and attending poetry events (where he met and befriended Allen Ginsberg). Ginsberg was a fan of Weiwei's father, Ai Qing, who was a famous poet in China and imprisoned for his political poetry. It is no surprise that Weiwei carries his father's legacy of fighting for justice through his own poetry and art. Weiwei's fight has not always been as glorious and well-received as his current art career. Spending time in prison, heavily audited by the government and currently unable to leave China, Weiwei reminds us that the fight for justice is a lifestyle, not a career. American values of democracy and freedom transcend geographic boundaries in Weiwei's art. He continues to create work and be heard even after the Chinese government demolished his studio in January 2011. While he may be under constant surveillance, his protest has reached the biggest international audience of his life through his globally renowned art.
Today, spoken word poet and filmmaker, Kelly Tsai, directs a new multimedia piece, "Ai Weiwei: The Seed," to explore Ai Weiwei's roots as an artist living during the Cultural Revolution in China and the 1980s in New York City. Tsai collaborates with a roster of Asian American artists (Jessica Chen, Jason Kao Hwang, Adriel Luis and Kit Yan) to distinctly celebrate Ai Weiwei within the framework of Asian American -- not exotic or foreign. In this unprecedented ensemble collaboration of Asian American artists for Brooklyn Museum, "Ai Weiwei: The Seed" demonstrates that Asian Americans are most successful when they strive to be heard, by any means necessary. Kelly Tsai states, "Our collaborative process in creating this piece has been really powerful. Through Ai Weiwei's story, we've been able to understand so much more of our own experiences as artists of the Chinese diaspora living in New York City. The cost of speaking out carries so many risks and dangers. Ai Weiwei's life is a testament to what that kind of courage and vision can mean as you come into your own."
For more information about "Ai Weiwei: The Seed" premiering Thursday July 24th for one night only, visit the Facebook Page.