Cultural Erasure and Reconstruction

During the cultural revolution, not only did Weiwei witness great political unfairness, but also the birth of a new China.”Chairman Mao had a saying that we could destroy the old world and create a new world” (Weiwei qtd. in Without Fear or Favor). This meant destroying the remnants of old China and pushing to become a modern classless society. Ai addresses the awkwardness of this transition and also uses materiality to showcase China’s diverse cultural history.

He capture’s the fervor for cultural change, and destruction, in pieces like Dropping A Han Dynasty Vase (1995), a series of black and white photos that depict Ai shattering a Han dynasty vase. Weiwei is referencing the destruction that has to occur in order for new cultural artifacts to be created. His apathetic expression and posture show how often this kind of destruction goes unnoticed and unmourned.

In Coca-Cola Vases (2015), Ai paints over neolithic ceramic art with a silver Coca-Cola logo. Reminding us that not only are cultural artifacts destroyed, but they are also taken and repurposed. I don’t think Weiwei views this as a bad practice, but rather just the reality of how cultural progress functions. At the same time, Ai does not want us to forget where these things have come from, he leaves the neolithic designs on the vase peaking through the Coca-Cola logo, the vase doesn’t truly lose any of it’s history, instead it just becomes hidden.