Who’s Afraid of Ai Weiwei?


I had only heard of him as an artist – one who’s best-known work was perhaps the design for the Beijing Olympic Stadium.  It’s only when I heard that he’s been missing – seemingly detained by the government – that I decided to find out more about Ai Weiwei.  But it wasn’t because of the news…

It  was because of the identity.

What caught my attention was a feature on NPR’s ALL THINGS CONSIDERED where they discussed what 22 year-old graffiti artist Tang Chin, also known as Tangerine, was risking her freedom for.  I might be stretching a little bit here – but her use of the word identity as related to what she’s doing struck me. The actual quote is:

  • “He’s one of the most prominent contemporary artists in the world right now,” she explains. “And if he can be arrested, then there’s no identity we can hide behind: Being a Hong Kong citizen doesn’t help anymore; being rich or social status doesn’t help.”

She was talking about the artist and his stature in society, but she might as well have been talking about the stenciled identity she has been instrumental in having placed all around Hong Kong since he disappeared.

Courtesy of Tangerine

Currently, many of his fans – and he has many – have picked up the stencils to attempt to post these quicker than they can be glossed over by crews.

You should definitely read up on it by clicking on either link above, but that’s not my main point here.
Yes, I realize that to compare something like this to marketing products, brands, companies is not apples to apples, but the basest element is absolutely relevant:
Tangerine has created a true identity for her message.  It is instantly recognizable, catches the spirit of the “movement’s” message, and is in a medium that is an absolutely perfect fit for the target audience.
I also don’t want to get into a comparison to those who came before her in establishing an identity by posting on the streets (i.e. Shepard Fairey, Buff Monster, Futura, Banksy, Blek Le Rat – whom I admire greatly.) But bringing it back to branding and identity for a moment – Whether she meant to or not, she has provided a primer on what an identity should be.  Its not about how things look on a business card or other print collateral – its how the image conveys everything that your business, product or movement is about.
Tangerine is willing to risk her freedom to bring awareness to the larger public – that’s a much different proposition that any one person has to deal with in companies.  Thankfully, she didn’t diminish her ROI on Freedom by being too cutesy, or trying to make this something it isn’t.
In all seriousness, I only wish I had an iota of the personal strength that Weiwei had in his resolve to push the government to do what’s right and her resolve to increase awareness at great risk to herself.  It goes without saying how much we can learn…

One response to “Who’s Afraid of Ai Weiwei?

  1. Hi there! Thank you for that post. Brilliant just brilliant.

    I am actually curating a project in London for Ai Weiwei’s capture-awareness and release. It is called The Chinese Art Project, http://wp.me/p1yUbw-15, and I am looking to do an exhibition using art as a symbol of unique interpretation and freedom of expression. Hopefully I’ll have 25 peices of art to exhibit from 5 unique artists. You’d be so welcome to come! I guess it’s about pulling together and standing for our rights. Especially in an age of social media power. I’ve put a project video plan up here http://www.youtube.com/ChineseWhisperProj it would be great if you could find an outlet to let readers know.

    Many thanks! Keep up the good work.
    Mr Taurus.

    p.s. i’m on twitter: ChineseTwhisper
    p.p.s. I’ve added your blog to my links on the site

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