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“I don't think anybody can separate art from politics. The intention to separate art from politics is itself a very political intention." 

​​​​​​​-Ai Weiwei, n.d., The Art Story Foundation​​​​​​​


In 2008, an earthquake-ravaged the Sichuan province, killing over 60,000 civilians and 9000 schoolchildren. Convinced that the government’s insufficient construction had caused the school buildings to collapse, Ai launched a civil investigation to uncover the government’s negligence. Using his blog, Sina, as a platform, Ai and thousands of volunteers published the names of nearly 5000 previously unreported victims. Along with this, Ai continued to voice his criticism of the government by creating visual works of art that commemorated the lives lost.

"A powerful earthquake struck Western China on Monday, toppling thousands of homes, factories and offices, trapping students in schools, and killing at least 10,000 people, the country’s worst natural disaster in three decades.The quake, which was estimated preliminarily to have had a magnitude of 7.9, ravaged a mountainous region outside Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province, just after lunchtime Monday, destroying 80 percent of structures in some of the towns and small cities near its epicenter, Chinese officials said. Its tremors were felt as far away as Vietnam and set off another, smaller quake in the outskirts of Beijing, 900 miles away. Landslides, power failures and fallen mobile phone towers left much of the affected area cut off from the outside world and limited information about the damage. But snapshots of concentrated devastation suggested that the death toll that could rise significantly as rescue workers reached the most heavily damaged areas."

 Jake Hooker and Jim Yardley , 2008, Excerpt from "Powerful Quake Ravages China, Killing Thousands" 

Damage from 2008 Great Sichuan Earthquake in China, 2008, David Wald

"Sichuan earthquake of 2008", 2008, Encyclopedia Britannica

During the earthquake period, I went to the location to see what was going on. I kept a blog constantly questioning the problems, which relate to not clearly releasing information about how many people died, who are dead, how many of them were students, what are their names, and how many deaths are related to the collapse of school buildings... Then we found that this is incredible material, not only about the students but also about how they are treated after the earthquake. A lot of it was related to the deaths of students, the payment issue, housing issues, and the most frustrating issue is that they are really neglected. If they asked questions about the architecture (and construction of the collapsed buildings,) they were often harassed, beaten and detained. Some have even been locked up seven times. Completely outrageous. So you realize that the earthquake is just one disaster, (for those families) there will be much bigger disasters later because they lost the whole future. Then they are facing the local government, which completely sees them as nothing, nobody...I said maybe we should start a citizen investigation, so I put it [the idea] on my blog, which had a fairly broad readership...So far we’ve got around 5,000 names with solid information of the students. 

-​​​​​​​-Ai Weiwei, n.d., The Art Story Foundation​​​​​​​

"Citizen Investigation", 2009, Excerpt from Ai Weiweii's Blog: Writings, Interviews, and Digitial Works (page 209)


"Consisting of 9,000 school children's backpacks, the different colors are arranged to depict the sentece, 'for seven years she lived happily on this earth' in Chinese lettering, which was uttered by the mother of a small girl who perished in the quake."   

​​​​-Harriet Baker, assistant Digital Producer at the Royal Academy of Art, 2016, Royla Academy of Art 

Remembering, 2009, Royal Academy

"Guests from All Corners of the Earth", 2009, Ai Weiwei's Blog: Writings, Interviews, and Digital Rants (page 211)

"Parent Tang Yulan grieves for her daughter killed in the rubble of
     a Beichuan school. Ten of thousands of people, many of the schoolchildren,
     were killed when a magnitude-8 earthquake hit Sichuan in 2008", 2008, Ricky Chung 


"Snake Ceiling", 2012, Cathy Carver

Snake Ceiling, ca. 2013,  Art Gallery of Ontario

"Can these facts be altered? The hearts stopped beating, their limbs decayed, and their shouts disappeared with their breath, can these be returned? Wave upon wave of mighty propaganda from the national state apparatus cannot erase the persistent memories of the survivors….People’s hearts will call out each of your names, the name that belonged to you will be remembered. When it is called out again, you will rise from the dead and be contented spirits."

- Ai Weiwei, n.d., "Ai Weiwei’s  Snake Ceiling"

"Snake Ceiling shows hundreds of children’s knapsacks woven together in the shape of a coiled snake and attached to the gallery ceiling. It’s a response to the 2008 Sichuan earthquake that killed almost ninety thousand people, including more than five thousand children, who died when their shoddily built schools collapsed. Ai took the unprecedented step of challenging the government’s official mortality reports, which vastly understated the number of schoolchildren who had died... That’s what ultimately led to his arrest and detention. ” 

-Eleanor Wachtel, 2016, “An Interview with Ai Weiwei”

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