hi

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Growing up in Mao’s era, Ai was heavily influenced by the Maoist regime. The artist’s writings, works and interviews suggest a set of political ideals and contradictions firmly rooted in the tradition of Chinese Marxism and a critical perspective shaped by his experience growing up during the Cultural Revolution. Prior and during this movement, Ai’s family suffered immensely under the Chinese regime. Ai’s father, Chinese poet Ai Qing, was denounced during the Anti-Rightist Movement in 1957. The family subsequently spent years in labour camps in different parts of China. Ai was nine when the Cultural Revolution started in 1966. Peace was only restored to his family upon Mao's death and the end of the Cultural Revolution ten years later in 1976. Ai’s connection to Mao and the Cultural Revolution does not end here. The foremost reason why Ai used sunflower seeds in his piece owes to the fact it is a direct reference to the propaganda paintings of the Cultural Revolution, depicting a hopeful Mao being surrounded by sunflowers, which are his people. While Ai contemplates the spiritual and material significance of sunflowers in Mao and the Cultural Revolution, he is also confronting his own Maoist beliefs. "Chairman Mao is the sun," says Ai, "and all the ordinary people loyal to the party are the sunflowers." On the surface, it may appear paradoxical to some that Ai is honouring a dictator and movement that caused him and his family much suffering, but he is in fact using Sunflower Seeds to engage in a process of self-criticism, and through that, proceed to criticise the regime at large. In various interviews, Ai expressed the relationship between his work to this practice of criticism and self-criticism, a Maoist ideal that he adopted... ... middle of paper ... ...alities between the two, asserting that Ai’s criticism and self-criticism reconciles the two arguments. Ai’s commitment to liberal values should not be viewed as contradictory to the Maoist gestures embedded in his artistic practices. With most of the art world focusing on Ai’s call for political reform, his authoritarian expressions should be made visible in order to understand the context from which they arise. In essence, Ai uses the resources of the country to show how easily they are exploited. If he has the power to exploit, there are others out there who do as well. Through perpetuating the problem and subsequently self-criticism, Ai is able to shed light on the decays of his nation and get people talking. Only with awareness and conversations could there be a new social consciousness. Like his name, Ai looks into the future, and seems to be hopeful about it.

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