Let’s be clear: Ai Wei Wei is not Glaswegian for ‘Yes, I do need a pee’.
Ai Wei Wei is an iconic Chinese artist and human rights activist who has an exhibition at the Royal Academy in London at the present. It’s funny, quirky, biting, painful, poignant and memorable – all you want from art really.
The thing that stands out is his, and his team’s, stubbornness. Goodness knows how many times he’s had the rug pulled from under this feet by the authorities yet he keeps using art to say ‘eff you’ to the repressive and ridiculous regime.
He highlights injustice, the deaths of 5000 school children through shoddy government building work, the inexorable and mindless loss of heritage in the built environment, his own solitary incarceration.
But as I walked round what kept coming back to me most was how he epitomises the essence of protest, of defying conventional wisdoms and sticking a finger up to authority and those in power.
Today Parliament sits to discuss and vote on extending the bombing range of our forces in the Middle East to include Syria. In one sense, pushing the limit of bombing 150 miles or so hardly makes a difference given we already bomb Iraq.
Civilians will be killed alongside the dog dirt that is Daesh; this will not really make us a lesser target for terrorism and I’d say another attack somewhere is inevitable; and I do not buy the idea that there’s any sort of coherent plan for the ‘afters’ in all of this – we will bomb and maybe send in some troops and eventually there will be a ceasefire and a debate and it will all be over until the next bunch of loons and psychos take their turn.
This will happen and nothing I do or say will make the slightest difference. But I could go and megaphone outside Downing Street and, probably, not risk the losses Ai Wei Wei has experienced. Yet he goes on with his chiselling at the granite walls of authority and I don’t.
It doesn’t matter if I agree or disagree with the subject matter; people need to remember they have a voice and exercise it. That’s what he reminded me yesterday. Me and Jeremy Corbyn make strange bedfellows but he’s right on this. And given the opportunity to say so, I will say so. And if you agree or disagree I don’t mind; all I care is you say so.
On one’s own it might seem like pissing in the wind, but we have to keep on because eventually the granite will be worn away.