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Ai Weiwei: Unbroken opens at the Gardiner Museum on February 28

2 years ago

Iconic and new work by dissident artist coming to Toronto amid diplomatic tensions between Canada and China

TORONTO—Ai Weiwei is one of the world’s most influential artists and human rights activists, and one of China’s most formidable critics.

On February 28, Ai Weiwei: Unbroken will open at the Gardiner Museum, featuring iconic ceramic works, including Sunflower Seeds and Coca Cola Vase, recent works in blue-and-white porcelain depicting the global refugee crisis, and objects in other media, including wood and marble, that playfully subvert notions of traditional craftsmanship and Chinese cultural identity with pointedly political imagery. The exhibition also marks the international debut of a new LEGO zodiac installation.

“Through his art and activism, Ai Weiwei calls attention to some of the most urgent and universal human rights issues, including freedoms of speech and migration. This exhibition explores how he has broken physical and symbolic boundaries throughout his career, and highlights how his message remains as crucial as ever, if not more so,” says Sequoia Miller, Chief Curator at the Gardiner Museum.

Ai Weiwei: Unbroken will open in Toronto amid heightened diplomatic tensions between Canada and China since the arrest of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou and the detainment of two Canadian citizens on suspicion of endangering state security.

“The Chinese government’s recent actions are unsurprising. They have been acting in their own way, with their own set of ideologies and practices, for the past 70 years,” says Ai Weiwei. “The West’s apparent conflict with the situation in China is because of its refusal to acknowledge its complicity in creating this monstrous regime.”

Read the full statement by Ai Weiwei

The exhibition will be accompanied by an original publication featuring images from the exhibition as well as responses by seventeen contributors from a wide range of backgrounds—local activists, politicians, organizers, human rights workers, artists, and poets—connecting the show’s themes to Canadian voices and experiences. The contributors include Olivia Chow, former Member of Parliament; Gwen Benaway, Anishinaabe and Métis poet and activist; Henry Heng Lu, Chinese-Canadian curator and artist; Nadia Umadat, Child and Youth Counselor at the Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture; Kristyn Wong-Tam, City Councillor and human rights activist, and Itah Sadu, award-winning storyteller and author, and co-owner of A Different Booklist. The publication also features an essay by historian and critic Garth Clark, as well as a statement from Ai Weiwei highlighting the role of Western democracies in maintaining the authoritarian regime in China.

The Gardiner has partnered with Human Rights Watch, Ryerson University, and New Ho Queen, a Toronto-based queer Asian collective, to present an exciting roster of programs that delve deeper into the exhibition’s themes of social justice and boundary breaking.

Ai Weiwei: Unbroken will be on display at the Gardiner from February 28 to June 9, 2019.


The AWW Free School
Co-presented with Ken Moffatt, The Jack Layton Chair, and Melanie Panitch, The Director of The Office of Social Innovation, Ryerson University
This unique seminar program presented with Ryerson University transforms the exhibition into a site for social action, connecting its themes to the practice of public citizenship. Events are free with online registration.

Tuesday March 5, 6:30 – 9 pm
Embodied Narratives
Writer and researcher Tara Farahani leads a spoken word exercise followed by a contemplative clay session led by ceramic artist Zahra Komeylian.

Tuesday March 19, 6:30 – 10 pm
Documenting Dissent
Renowned labour rights activist Winnie Ng leads a workshop on dissent, democracy, and student activism, followed by a documentary program curated by media artist Nataleah Hunter-Young that delves into the invisibility of Canadian state violence.

Tuesday April 2, 6:30 – 9 pm
Fake News
Writer and video artist RM Vaughan and NOW Magazine Life and Social Media Editor Michelle da Silva lead a workshop on post-truth culture writing in the social media and fake news era.

Tuesday April 16, 6:30 – 10 pm
Extreme Music Therapy
When Ai Weiwei was released from detainment by the Chinese government in 2011, he put out the heavy metal single “Dumbass”. Writer, musician and therapist-in-training Carla Gillis facilitates an in-gallery heavy metal listening exercise, followed by a metal show featuring Vile Creature; author, activist, and musician Chris Colohan; and others.

Tuesday June 4, 6:30 – 8 pm
AWW Free School Final: 6/4/89
Co-presented with Ken Moffatt, The Jack Layton Chair, and Melanie Panitch, The Director of The Office of Social Innovation, Ryerson University; PEN Canada
Coinciding with the 30th anniversary of the student protests at Tiananmen Square, this culmination of the AWW Free School will feature an onstage conversation with journalists and activists who witnessed the massacre, reflecting on its impact. The panel will be introduced by Olivia Chow, Distinguished Visiting Professor at Ryerson and core member of the Toronto Association of Democracy in China.

Monday March 11, 6:30 – 8 pm
Inspiring, Intimidating, Inciting: Jingdezhen’s Blue and White Porcelain
Drawing from the Gardiner’s Chinese blue-and-white porcelain collection and Ai Weiwei’s practice in traditional Chinese craft, anthropologist and cultural historian Dr. Maris Boyd Gillette of the School of Global Studies at the University of Gothenburg explores how Jingdezhen porcelain has inspired, intimidated, and incited ceramists to create, copy, and counterfeit its glories.

Thursday April 25, 8 pm – 12 am
New Ho Queen: Undivided
New Ho Queen is a Toronto collective bringing visibility, opportunity, and experiences to the queer Asian and POC community. In partnership with the Gardiner, New Ho Queen will curate an art party that breaks down walls and boundaries, and through the lens of queer Asian artists, explore how building bridges and fostering chosen families create subcultural spaces for expression and belonging.

Tuesday May 7, 6:30 – 8 pm
Hidden from View: China’s Repression of Uyghurs
Co-presented by Human Rights Watch
This Human Rights Watch panel explores the persecution of Turkic-speaking Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang, an autonomous region in northwest China where Ai Weiwei’s family lived in exile from 1958 to 1975.


Ai Weiwei (b. 1957, Beijing) is among the world’s most celebrated contemporary artists and one of China’s most formidable critics. His sculptures, photographs, installations, and public artworks often repurpose traditional Chinese forms and materials to address today’s most pressing social concerns. An outspoken human rights activist, Ai was arrested by Chinese authorities on April 3, 2011 and held incommunicado for eighty-one days. In July 2015 he was granted the return of his passport to travel abroad despite ongoing government surveillance. Throughout, Ai has continued to extend his practice across multiple disciplines, using exhibitions, documentary films, and social media to communicate with a global audience.

Ai Weiwei attended the Beijing Film Academy and the Parsons School of Design in New York. He has received the Chinese Contemporary Art Award (2008); an honorary doctorate from the Faculty of Politics and Social Science, University of Ghent, Belgium (2010); the Skowhegan Medal (2011); and the Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent from the Human Rights Foundation (2012).

Ai Weiwei’s work has appeared in major exhibitions such as Documenta XII, Kassel, Germany (2007) and Biennial de Sáo Paulo, Brazil (2010), and has been featured in solo exhibitions at institutions such as the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (2009); Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany (2009); Tate Modern, London, U.K. (2010); Asia Society Museum, New York, NY (2011); the Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, Germany (2014); @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz, organized by the FOR-SITE Foundation in collaboration with the National Park Service, San Francisco, CA (2014); Royal Academy of Arts, London, UK (2015); National Gallery of Victoria, AU (2015); Le Bon Marché, Paris, France (2016); the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, Grand Rapids, MI (2017); and the Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. (2012, 2017).


The Gardiner Museum brings together people of all ages and communities through the shared values of creativity, wonder, and community that clay and ceramic traditions inspire.

The George R. Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art was founded by Toronto businessperson and philanthropist George Gardiner and his wife Helen in 1984, and was established in a building designed by Keith Wagland on the campus of Victoria University in the University of Toronto. The Museum was managed by the Royal Ontario Museum from 1987 to 1996 and then, with an additional endowment from George Gardiner before his death in 1997, became and remains an independent, non-profit museum. The Gardiner’s remarkable building was substantially renovated in 2004 by KPMB Architects.

The Gardiner Museum’s collection of ceramics comprises approximately 4,000 objects, and focuses on specific areas which have been collected in depth. These include the most important collection of European porcelain in Canada, with particular strengths in Meissen, Vienna, and Hausmaler decorated porcelain, as well as a comprehensive collection of figures inspired by the commedia dell’arte. It holds the best collection of Italian Renaissance maiolica in Canada, and a superb collection of English tin-glazed pottery. The Gardiner preserves highly significant collections of ceramics from the Ancient Americas, Chinese blue and white porcelain, Japanese porcelain, and contemporary Canadian ceramics. It also houses a research library and archives, clay studios, award-winning Shop, and a restaurant.

The Gardiner Museum is among the few museums in the world focused on ceramics, and is one of the world’s most notable specialty museums. For more information, please visit: www.gardinermuseum.com.


Media Contact:
Rachel Weiner
Senior Manager, Marketing
Gardiner Museum

Presenting Sponsor

La Fondation Emmanuelle Gattuso

Exhibition Partners

Phil Lind & Ellen Roland

The Rooney Family Foundation

Hal Jackman Foundation

Kim Spencer McPhee Barristers PC

AW Asia

Media Partner

Toronto Star

Programs Sponsor

Eleanor & Francis Shen

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