A new exhibit featuring photographs from Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei's little-known time in New York City opens in Vancouver Thursday. 

"New York Photographs" at the University of B.C.'s Belkin Gallery features 227 black-and-white images taken by Ai during his time in the American city, from 1983 to 1993.

The controversial artist, known for speaking out against the Chinese government's stance on democratic rights and freedoms, was born in 1957 and grew up during the Cultural Revolution.

His move in 1983 to New York was his first time outside his home country.

Images capture Allen Ginsberg, Bill Clinton

"New York Photographs 1983-1993" shows Ai's interactions with friends, like famed poet Allen Ginsberg, and many visitors from China.

Lower East Side Restaurant (Ai Weiwei)

Lower East Side Restaurant, 1988/2011. Ai Weiwei, on the right, with poet Allen Ginsberg at a restaurant in New York's Lower East Side. (Courtesy of Ai Weiwei, Three Shadows Photography Art Center, and Chambers Fine Art.)

"His apartment was a place where people came to crash," says exhibit curator Keith Wallace. "There are many images that are very informal, of someone next to the bed."

'There is no activism in this exhibition, but you can see how his ideas of activism formulated.'- Keith Wallace, curator

Intimacy isn't the only theme in the exhibition. From the poverty of New York's Lower East Side, to police, riots and injured protesters, Ai captured some of the most contentious parts of New York life at the time.

He also snapped a striking shot of then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton.

Bill Clinton (Ai Weiwei)

Bill Clinton. Lower East Side, 1992/2011. Ai Weiwei captures then presidential candidate Bill Clinton on the campaign trail in New York. (Courtesy of Ai Weiwei, Three Shadows Photography Art Center, and Chambers Fine Art.)

"He sort of realized the process of being able to demonstrate, against government or authority in the West, was something available to people," Wallace says. 

"There is no activism in this exhibition, but you can see how his ideas of activism formulated."

"Ai Weiwei: New York Photographs 1983–1993" runs until November 30th at the Belkin Gallery at the University of British Columbia.