by Sue Hubbard
Ai Weiwei: Royal Academy, London until 31th December 2015
William Kentridge: Marian Goodman Gallery until 24th October 2015
The Chinese artist, designer and architect, Ai Weiwei has come to be regarded as a creative figure of global stature, largely because of his personal bravery and strong social conscience in speaking out against the repressive Chinese government. He has been imprisoned for his pains and galvanised a generation of artists. On his return to China in 1993, after twelve years in America, his work began to reflect the dual influences of both his native culture and his exposure to western art. He cites Duchamp as “the most, if not the only, influential figure” in his art practice. As a conceptual artist Ai Weiwei starts with an idea – for example China's relationship to its history – addressed in this major show at the Royal Academy by Table and Pillar, 2002, and made, as part of his Furniture series. A salvaged pillar from a Qing dynasty (1644-1911) temple has been inserted into a chair to form a totemic work. Having spent a month in China in 2000, I can confirm that Ai Weiwei has every reason to be concerned about the destruction of his cultural heritage which, when I was there, was daily being destroyed to make way for ‘modernisation'. Coloured Vases, 2015, further questions notions of value and authenticity by illustrating that fake antiquities are made with exactly the same techniques as authentic vases. In classic postmodernist style Ai Weiwei's objects take on the characteristics of a Barthian ‘text' to be deconstructed by those who are able to ‘read' and decode them.
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by Ali Minai
Two recent events – the visit to Pakistan by Chinese President Xi, and the horrific assassination of Pakistani human rights activist and social entrepreneur, Sabeen Mahmud – have once again put Pakistan's restive province of Balochistan “on the map” – at least for those who pay attention to the affairs of this turbulent region. Balochistan – where the ancestors of whales once grazed on land and through which the armies of Alexander and Queen Victoria passed on their way to unforeseen futures – is once again today a land of boundless opportunity and endless tragedy, depending on who one listens to. Let us begin by listening to the ghosts of history.
For millennia, Balochistan – or Gedrosia as the Greeks called it – has been the land between lands: A vast and arid expanse lying between the West and the East that ambitious conquerors or hardy travelers have occasionally chosen to brave at their own risk. Eight millennia ago, one of Earth's oldest civilizations thrived in the north-central part of the province, leaving their traces in the ruins of Mehrgarh. At some ancient and uncertain date, a great pilgrimage site arose at Hinglaj on Balochistan's Arabian Sea coast. Revered as “Nani ka Mandir“, Hindus hold it sacred to the goddess Durga. Others have suggested that its original association was with the Sumerian goddess Inanna – also known as Ishtar, Nannai, Nana, Naina Devi, and possibly the same as the Persian Anahita – Naheed – and the Greek Athene. It is even reported that a Khariji hyper-Islamist state on the lines of today's ISIS once existed in the heart of this land, though time has erased its memory from the land much as it has largely erased the land of Balochistan from the historical memory of great civilizations. But that may be about to change.
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