On the fifth floor of The Brooklyn Museum lies a gargantuan piece entitled, “Straight.” The piece was created using Steel rebar that were recovered from the wreckage of schoolhouses in Sichuan due to the 2008 earthquake. It took almost the entire floor of the room and it would seem that it was appropriated only for this piece. Each bar that was recovered was painstakingly re-straightened and arranged in a way that it seemed like the earth’s plates that are in motion during an earthquake. The work in itself evokes a minimalistic aesthetic but given the way the piece was created, it dawned on me that it was speaking in volumes about the children who were forgotten and names of the dead that its government would not recognize. Ai Wei Wei may have used this work as a reminder to straighten out a crooked past.
Much of Ai Wei Wei’s work is about social activism. He uses art as an eye opener and as a means to pull through the realities that the Chinese government seems to be undermining if not hiding, and he brings up China’s culture, and social awareness. One of his most notable work was a photo- triptych of him “Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn” in 1995 is displayed on the 4th floor of the museum together with Han Dynasty vases that have been painted over using industrial paint. These pieces together with the “Map of China” which was created using Tieli wood (iron wood) from temples that were taken apart seems to point out China’s unity and churning in on itself of its culture, politics, and history.
People can also get a glimpse on Ai Wei Wei’s past through his pictures of his life in New York back in the 80s that hung on the walls of the 4th floor gallery. I was able to see his pictures of street performances in the Greenwich Village, his interesting nude portrait with his penis tucked between his legs in his Williamsburg apartment, to the Chinese New Year on Mott Street back in 1989. These photos almost conveys something endearing and also something very personal as it also included photos of his friends and his people who moved to America for another chance at life. But these would seem to be the only part of the exhibition where I found myself smiling as the rest of it felt like a chilling presence.
His Social Media Snap Shot of police brutality shows his committed activism through new mediums and even evidences of the crime like his MRI scans were laid out in the exhibit; possibly as a sort of expose because his appeals for justice seemed unheard. But nothing had prepared me for that room on the 5th floor with the re-straightened rebar and the names of thousands of forgotten souls that were posted on the right wall of the room. It was very painful and for the last piece that you’ll ever see in his show it seemed like a bitter end. However, it is up to the viewer what he’ll do with what he has seen. It will be up to them if they shall remain forgotten or just another memory of an art piece that they glanced in a museum.