Gianluca Costantini
Political Comics

Art, Freedom, and a Menagerie: On Ai Weiwei’s “Zodiac”

By Melissa Chan for Los Angeles Review of Books

AI WEIWEI BEGINS Zodiac (2024) by reflecting on his childhood exile to Western China and the impact of the Cultural Revolution, a period of collective Communist Party psychopathy responsible for the deaths of either hundreds of thousands of Chinese or millions—no one knows exact numbers, because the decade’s havoc granted no place for facts or accountability.

Ai’s father was the criminal. In a precursor to the chaos known as the Anti-Rightist Campaign, Beijing punished Ai Qing, a poet, for expressing his views. He was banished to a rural village to clean toilets. That is where China’s renowned contemporary artist and activist grew up. Ai Weiwei’s earliest encounters with the state involved the expulsion of people, their ideas, and their books.

In Zodiac, Ai’s first graphic novel, freedom and kindness are consequently two major themes. For Ai, the first concept includes freedom not only from authoritarianism but also from the kind of fear that will later allow him, as a young man, to explore art and find his political voice. Kindness becomes the antidote against the cruelty humans choose to inflict on others. Continue

Ai Weiwei / United States / Zodiac

Political Comics