Every day, as his every move is monitored in Beijing, Ai Weiwei does not silently suffer the blows of being an enemy of the Communist Party. Ai has rechanneled his work and fame (he helped create Beijing’s Bird’s Nest stadium) into a bravura series of life-as-art moments that have made political defiance in China cool rather than just dangerous. After the government gave him a dubious $2.4 million tax bill, his online followers paid $1.4 million of it, and because not-for-profit donations are largely illegal in China, Ai sent the donors IOUs, which themselves became sought-after artworks. When the government set up surveillance cameras around his home, he set up his own, launching Weiweicam.com. "I have a voice," he says, "and I have a lot to say before going to my grave."
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[Portrait illustration by Denise Nestor]