The Chinese revolutionary artist and iconoclastic activist, Ai Weiwei, made his directorial debut at the Rome Opera House with Puccini’s Turandot, in 2022. The selection of this opera, banned in Chinese, aligns with Ai Weiwei’s penchant for challenging norms. Our documentary delves into his exploration of a novel platform, showcasing an intriguing convergence of his artistic expression with a traditional art form. Renowned for his interdisciplinary approach, we follow Ai Weiwei as he infuses the opera with a fresh and contemporary perspective, fostering a connection between the past and the present. His incorporation of installation art, performance art, and conceptual art results in a unique and immersive experience. Within this artistic endeavor, he deftly weaves themes addressing human rights, freedom, and societal challenges, providing a culturally resonant lens through which to express his views. Known for challenging boundaries, be they political, cultural, or artistic, his involvement pushes the boundaries of what is traditionally expected in opera, exploring new formats, and addressing unconventional themes. Adding to Ai Weiwei’s involvement in opera, also contributes to a broader global dialogue, facilitating cultural exchange, and introducing new perspectives to a diverse audience that encourages discussions on these universal themes.


Born on August 28, 1957,  Ai Weiwei grew up in the far northwest of China, where he lived under harsh conditions due to his father’s exile. He learned to challenge authority early on when his father, a famous revolutionary poet, fell out of favor with the Chinese Communist government, and like many intellectuals was sent along with his whole family to the provinces to be “re-educated.” “My father and I all paid disastrous costs to the freedom of speech,” Ai Weiwei said. “So does the country.”  But Ai Wei Wei’s artistic development really began when he came to the U.S. in 1983 on a fellowship, and stayed 10 years. It was the people he met in New York City — the Allen Ginsburgs, the Robert Rauchenbergs — that opened his mind. He returned to China, where his work in everything from sculpture to architecture was so well-respected that he was chosen to help design the signature “Bird’s Nest Stadium” for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.  Because he felt the government was using the stadium in the wrong way, Ai Wei Wei ended up disowning his own work.  “It was not the symbol of civil and sports spirits, but nationalism and authoritarianism instead,” Ai Weiwei said. What really enraged the Chinese government was that, after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake that killed at least 68,000 people, Ai Wei Wei began investigating shoddy construction that led to countless collapsed buildings, which was then documented in the film, AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY. It’s apparent that embedded in his work, whether they are political or not, are his ideas and his desire to see the world change. 


As an activist, he has been openly critical of the Chinese Government’s stance on democracy and human rights. He investigated government corruption and cover-ups, in particular the Sichuan schools corruption scandal following the collapse of “tofu-dreg schools” in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. In 2011, Ai Weiwei was arrested at Beijing Capital International Airport on 3 April, for “economic crimes”. He was detained for 81 days without charge and emerged as a vital instigator in Chinese cultural development, an architect of Chinese modernism, and one of the nation’s most vocal political commentators.

Ai Weiwei’s life and work reflect his commitment to using art as a form of social and political activism. He is renowned for making strong personal aesthetic statements across all disciplines – art that resonates with timely phenomena across today’s geopolitical world. From architecture to installations, social media to documentaries, Ai Weiwei uses a wide range of platforms as expressions of new ways for his audiences to examine society and its values. In addition to embracing opera, he recently published a memoir in graphic novel form, Zodiac: A Graphic Memoir. 

Ai Weiwei is famous for iconoclastic actions such as dipping Neolithic vases into synthetic paint or dropping a Han-dynasty urn. Regarded as one of the most controversial artworks in art history, Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn, is a 1995 photographic artwork that comprises three black-and-white images of Ai Weiwei holding, dropping, and standing over the remains of a 2,000-year-old Han period urn.  On the other hand, he has become a vocal critic of the rampant destruction of the Beijing architectural heritage and points to this loss by incorporating materials from demolished houses and temples into his works. Recent art exhibitions include: Ai Weiwei: Resetting Memories at MARCO in Monterrey, Ai Weiwei: Bare Life at the Mildred Lane Kemper Museum in St. Louis, Ai Weiwei at the K20/K21 in Dusseldorf, and Good Fences Make Good Neighbors with the Public Art Fund in New York City.