Marina Times – AI Weiwei returns to San Francisco with “Everyday Monuments” at the Haines Gallery

Ai Weiwei’s sociopolitically inspired art is on display at the Haines Fort Mason Gallery until August 27. “Everyday Monuments” is Ai’s first exhibition in San Francisco since 2016, and it shines a light on people, places and events that might otherwise be overlooked. The exhibition consists of 18 works in materials such as Legos, marble and wood, each of which is a synthesis of complex historical, cultural and political references.

Ai was born in China in 1957. As a staunch defender of human rights, his cultural criticism and activism have made him a natural target for Chinese authorities attempting to censor the artist and his output. Undeterred, Ai continues to turn activism and adversity into art.


This exhibition marks the San Francisco debut of Ai Zodiac (2018). Twelve panels made up of thousands of brightly colored Lego bricks represent the mythical animals of the traditional Chinese zodiac, a system of assigning personality traits to birth years. Appearing in the gallery in astrological order, the entire work is inspired by the Zodiac Fountain in Yuanmingyuan, Beijing’s former summer palace. This epic water clock made of 12 monumental bronze animal heads was looted by the Anglo-French troops who participated in the destruction of Yuanmingyuan in 1860 during the Second Opium War.

The recovery of cultural relics from the colonial past is an ongoing global topic of discussion in the art world, and occasionally these bronze heads resurface on the market. Although they appeared for sale – notably at the 2009 Christie’s auction of the Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge collection – only seven of the Zodiac heads have been recovered to date. Showcasing the Chinese zodiac using a children’s toy, Ai’s Lego zodiac heads recreate landmarks from everyday materials, and the shape of the artwork is reminiscent of geometry computerized images made up of pixels.


rebar (2014) molds everyday objects into marble, creating a memorial. rebar emerged following a massive earthquake that struck Sichuan province on May 12, 2008, killing nearly 90,000 people, including thousands of school children. The death of the children was caused, in part, by the faulty construction of the school. The bereaved parents, outraged by the needless deaths of their children, were swiftly punished and silenced by Chinese authorities.

Ai worked with other activists to investigate the Chinese government cover-up. His work provided the names and details of 5,335 school children who had perished in the earthquake and whose identities had disappeared from public records. Each twisted rod of sculpted marble is placed on wooden frames shaped like tiny coffins, monuments to lost lives.


After a massive public outcry for his freedom, Ai was released in the summer of 2011 after 81 days in prison. He was brutally beaten by the police and disappeared into custody for his human rights activism, although the official reason is “economic crimes”. Ai was later released, but his passport was confiscated and he was watched by video cameras, which once surrounded his Beijing studio. The Lantern (2014) is Ai’s mocking response to video cameras, which he decorated with red paper lanterns associated with festivals. Beautifully carved in marble, they exist as an ornamental testament to what the artist endured.

Ceiling lamp with stars (2014) is a reproduction of a light fixture commonly found in communist China of the 1950s and 1960s. The marble sculpture is covered in five-pointed stars, a symbol of the communist party, and evokes the bygone era Soviet-inspired design.

Ai’s post-imprisonment activities continue to spark meaningful dialogue as his observations of justice continue to reach wider audiences. After her passport returned in 2015, Ai has lived in Berlin, Cambridge and now resides in Portugal.

Ai Weiwei presents art as an opportunity to deconstruct the values ​​of society and encourages its viewers to do one small thing every day to prove the existence of justice. The role of the individual is a role of power. Ai explains, “I call on people to be ‘citizens obsessed’, constantly questioning themselves and demanding accountability. It is the only chance we have today of a healthy and happy life.

Ai Weiwei | Monuments of everyday life: Tuesday-Saturday 10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. through Aug. 27, free, Haines Gallery, Building C, Fort Mason Center, 415-397-8114,

Sharon Anderson is an artist and writer from Southern California. She can be reached at

About Dwaine Pinson

Check Also

7 things to know about Austin’s cuisine: noodles from San Fran’s ramen shop in town

Editor’s note: We understood. It can be hard to keep up with the fast pace …