Writers & Company

Ai Weiwei on global resistance and the transformative power of art

The Chinese artist, recipient of the 2017 Adrienne Clarkson Prize for Global Citizenship, spoke with CBC's Eleanor Wachtel in 2016 about how everyone has a role to play in making positive change in the world.
Ai Weiwei poses for photographers with one of his pieces at his exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London in September 2015. (Frank Augstein/Associated Press)

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has been called "the most powerful artist in the world" and "a contemporary icon of resistance."

Ai Weiwei takes a selfie with Eleanor Wachtel in 2016.

He is in Toronto on Sept. 27, 2017 for the 6 Degrees Citizen Space conference, where he will receive the Adrienne Clarkson Prize for Global Citizenship by the Institute for Canadian Citizenship (ICC). It is the second year for the award, which recognizes individuals who have dedicated their work to promoting inclusion, tolerance and the idea of belonging. Last year's recipient was His Highness the Aga Khan. 

With a remarkable career characterized by daring and a deep empathy for ordinary lives, Ai has reached an almost unprecedented level of international fame for an artist. He is also a prominent critic of China's authoritarian regime. His art blends Chinese history and craft with hard politics and the formal language of contemporary art.

Ai spoke with Eleanor Wachtel in 2016 in an episode of Wachtel on the Arts about his beautiful and rebellious art — and about his fight for freedom and democracy in China.

"Art doesn't belong to a category. It's very hard to regulate. Art, as a philosophy, constantly asks questions and is subversive," said Ai to Wachtel.

"We're human. We all have a higher sense of... what art is about."