The internationally renowned Chinese artist recalls a life of resistance and oppression. In this graphic treatment of his life, with illustrations by Italian artist Costantini, Ai blends manifesto and fairy tale for an audience made up of his young son. The first lessons involves cats and mice, the former of which do not figure in the Chinese zodiac, while mice are recognized as resourceful and smart—if also pests. Ai recalls trapping mice to keep them away from the scarce grain that his family, in exile, managed to grow on unforgiving terrain. This memory occasions an aside about how those in power trap their subjects, and he honors murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in that connection. ContinueKirkus Reviews
In this beautifully illustrated and deeply philosophical graphic memoir, legendary artist Ai Weiwei explores the connection between artistic expression and intellectual freedom through the lens of the Chinese zodiac.
As a child living in exile during the Cultural Revolution, Ai Weiwei often found himself with nothing to read but government-approved comic books. Although they were restricted by the confines of political propaganda, Ai Weiwei was struck by the artists’ ability to express their thoughts on art and humanity through graphic storytelling. Now, decades later, Ai Weiwei and Italian comic artist Gianluca Costantini present Zodiac, Ai Weiwei’s first graphic memoir.
Inspired by the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac and their associated human characteristics, Ai Weiwei masterfully interweaves ancient Chinese folklore with stories of his life, family, and career. The narrative shifts back and forth through the years—at once in the past, present, and future—mirroring memory and our relationship to time. As readers delve deeper into the beautifully illustrated pages of Zodiac, they will find not only a personal history of Ai Weiwei and an examination of the sociopolitical climate in which he makes his art, but a philosophical exploration of what it means to find oneself through art and freedom of expression.
Contemplative and political, Zodiac will inspire readers to return again and again to Ai Weiwei’s musings on the relationship between art, time, and our shared humanity.
Ai Weiwei has been called the most influential artist of our time.
After denouncing government corruption and lack of respect for human rights and freedom of speech in China, he was arrested, beaten, placed in isolation and forbidden to travel.
His activity as a dissident has gone hand in hand with his artistic career and he has continued to produce work testifying to his political beliefs while at the same time making plenty of room for creativity and experimentation.
His output over the past thirty years allows us to explore his ambivalent rapport both with Western culture and with the culture of his own country – torn between a deep-rooted sense of belonging and an equally strong urge to rebel.
Ai Weiwei was born in 1957 in Beijing. His father, the poet Ai Qing, was labeled a “rightist” in 1958 and Ai and his family were exiled, first to Heilongjiang, in northeastern China, and then soon after to the deserts of Xinjiang, in northwestern China.
Following the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, Ai Qing was rehabilitated and the family moved back to Beijing. Ai would enroll at the Beijing Film Academy and was one of the original members of the ‘Stars’ group of artists.
Ai moved to the United States in 1981, living in New York between 1983 and 1993. He briefly studied at the Parsons School of Design. In New York, Ai would discover the works of Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol.Returning to China in 1993 to care for his ailing father, Ai contributed to the establishment of Beijing’s East Village, a community of avant-garde artists. In 1997, he co-founded the China Art Archives & Warehouse (CAAW), one of the first independent art spaces in China.
He began to take an interest in architecture in 1999, designing his own studio house in Caochangdi, on the northeast edge of Beijing. In 2003, Ai started his own architecture practice, FAKE Design. In 2007, as a participant of documenta 12, Ai brought 1001 Chinese citizens to Kassel as part of his Fairytale project. In 2008, Ai and the Swiss architecture team of Herzog and de Meuron designed the Beijing National Stadium. Continue
Elettra Stamboulis (Bologna, 1969) is an Art Curator and Scenarist of greek origins living in Ravenna. She has curated several comics exhibition, among them, Marjane Satrapi’s, Joe Sacco’s, Zograf’s, Dave McKean, Felipe H. Cava and many other important author from all over the world. She is one of the organizers of Komikazen international reality comics festival that takes place every year in Ravenna. She collaborates to the magazines inguineMAH!gazine and Giuda. She has written text for many short stories, articles for magazines and books upon comics and reality, and two Graphic Novels: L’Ammaestratore di Istanbul (Comma 22, 2008) and Officina del Macello (Edizioni del Vento, 2009). Her short stories has been translated in US, Greece, and UK.
Gianluca Costantini is an activist and artist who for years fought his battles through the drawing. Accused of terrorism by the Turkish government, he angered many French readers for a short comic about Charlie Hebdo‘s terrorist story. He actively collaborates with ActionAid, Amnesty, Emergency, ARCI and Oxfam organizations. His drawings mapped the story of the HRW Film Festival in London, the FIFDH Human Rights Festival in Geneva, the Human Rights Festival of Milan and the International Festival in Ferrara.