Ai Weiwei: Without Fear Or Favour (BBC 2010)

Is Ai Weiwei ever not on? With his level of exposure and following across the internet it’s hard to imagine a cooling off time where his presence isn’t constantly felt in the background. But between requests for Lego and the hype in London over his new show spanning the last two decades, at the moment he seems particularly important.

This year Weiwei was unexpectedly granted permission from the Chinese government to travel to Britain to open and curate his own works in the main galleries at the Royal Academy of Arts. Opening last month, by all accounts it’s brilliant.

I dig Ai Weiwei. He never comes across as preachy, just a really decent guy making the most of his incredible multi-disciplinary talents. He knows his spot in the political world and plays his part, spreading his views and messages in works that are equal parts self-indulgent and widely accessible.

To break it down even further, the change Ai Weiwei stands for is fundamentally needed, and results in amazing art, which is why he’s become one of the most influential modern Chinese figures outside of the government.

Given the public’s love of Ai Weiwei and his love of interacting with the world digitally, it’s unsurprising how well his artworks, antics and reactions are documented online. There’s also a handful of feature programs devoted to China’s hero antagonist, with Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry being a stand-out and possibly the best known from the collection.

We wanted to shed some light on a different piece though. Made for a fraction of the budget is the brilliant hour-long doco from BBC, Ai Weiwei: Without Fear or Favour. Shot and broadcast in 2010 before his arrest and detention by the Chinese government, Without Fear… was the first episode for the season of …imagine that year, and was recently rebroadcast with an extended introduction featuring an interview with Ai Weiwei outside of China for the first time in five years.

There’s three main parts in the documentary where Weiwei really lets you in. Firstly, where he talks about the stress of being constantly monitored; the phone taps, being followed, the surveillance cameras outside his house. Within months of these interviews he’d be arrested and detained by the Chinese government.

Also incredibly revealing are his father’s final words to him, expressing wish for him to return to live home, and how he should treat that home, by ‘not being so polite’ within it. And finally, when Ai Weiwei starts talking about his own theories and understandings of destruction, it’s hard not to get wrapped in his world.

For those in the UK you can access it through the BBC iPlayer here:

For everyone outside of old blighty however you’ll need to take a look at the copy that someone has uploaded to youtube, embedded below. Likely to come down soon, so worth watching as soon as you’ve got the chance.