Ben Luke talks to Ai Weiwei about his influences, from art to literature, film and music, and the cultural experiences that have shaped his life and work.
Ai, born in Beijing in 1957, is an artist who needs little introduction; he is among the most famous artists in the world, principally due to the activism which led him to be incarcerated in his native China for months without charge in 2011.
Since his release he has not let up and he continues to be a thorn in the Chinese government’s side, relentlessly documenting and publicly speaking out against its attacks on freedom and manifold other human rights abuses.
And while this conversation addresses his political activities it also explores his wider work, including the early objects inspired by Marcel Duchamp, his first pieces made with ancient Chinese ceramics, his middle-finger salutes, Study of Perspective, and the huge actions, like Fairytale at Documenta in 2007, for which he has come to be best known. He also answers the questions we ask all our guests, including the ultimate: what is art for?
• Ai Weiwei: The Liberty of Doubt, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge, UK, until 19 June; Intertwine, Serralves Museum, Porto, Portugal, until 9 July. The opera Turandot is at the Rome Opera House from 22-31 March. His book, 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows, is published by Bodley Head in the UK, priced £25 and Crown in the US, priced $32
• This is the final episode of series 8 of A brush with… Series 9 runs from 23 March-13 April, with episodes released on Wednesdays. You can download and subscribe to the podcast here. This podcast is sponsored by Bloomberg Connects.