Ai Weiwei first look at his new music video

The video offers an 'inch accurate' view of his prison cell, but the music is a less faithful rendering of 'heavy metal'
Still from Ai Weiwei's Dumbass video
Still from Ai Weiwei's Dumbass video




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If The Chinese authorities thought their 81-day detention of Ai Weiwei would silence the 55-year-old dissident artist and activist, they must now realise that their plans have seriously backfired. And their subsequent 'soft power' approach hasn't fared too well either. Not only has his 2011 prison spell spawned a critically acclaimed, award-winning documentary and brilliant stage play, it has also provided Ai with the material for his debut music video.

The song, called Dumbass, was released today, and is the first single from his forthcoming album, The Divine Comedy, due out June 22. As we previously reported, the artist was inspired to compose an album, after being asked to sing a song to relieve the boredom of the guards, who watched over him throughout his imprisonment two years ago. Only able to recall the kind of revolutionary songs drummed into as a child, Ai resolved do write something else to sing upon his release.

The words to Dumbass are all Ai's own work, while the music is composed by his friend and guitarist Zuoxiao Zuzhou. Noted Australian cinematographer, Christopher Doyle, best known for working with Wong Kar-wai, shot the accompanying video in Ai's studio, where the artist recreated an "inch accurate" version of his West Beijing prison cell.

The opening sequences are, according to the artist, an accurate portrayal of his detention, including his trips to the shower; meanwhile, the later passages show, The New York Times reports, "fantasies he imagines flitting through the guards' minds."


Look out for an inflatable doll in his bed, Ai brandishing a whip and crabs in his toilet pan. And the lyrics? They're as confrontational as you expect, chastising anyone who tries to work within the political system of modern-day China. Here's an except from the translation Ai offers on his site:

"When you're ready to strike, he mumbles about non-violence.
When you pinch his ear, he says it's no cure for diarrhea.
You say you're a motherfucker, he claims he's invincible.
You say you're a motherfucker, he claims he's invincible.
Fuck forgiveness, tolerance be damned, to hell with manners, the low-life's invincible."


Ai showers in his video

Ai showers in his video

Yet is it, as Ai originally stated, a heavy metal single? Ai has since qualified that description. "After I said it would be heavy metal, I ran back to check what heavy metal would be like," he says. "Then I thought, 'oh my god, it's quite different. So its Chinese heavy metal, or maybe [Ai's neighbourhood] Caochangdi heavy metal."

Listen, and decide for yourself. To learn more about one of today's' most important artists, please take a look at our book, Ai's first comprehensive monograph.


  • Ai WeiWei
  • Ai WeiWei
  • Ai WeiWei
Ai Weiwei’s work is an audacious blend of old and new, Western and Eastern, serious and irreverent. What marks Ai as a truly twenty-first-century artist is his multiplicity of roles: not just artist, designer and architect, but also curator, publisher, Web blogger and compass for an entire generation of Beijing artists. His outsize public persona is an integral part of his art. Although his outspoken views have brought him unwanted attention from the State, they have also generated excitement far beyond China's borders.

Thsi book provides you with a comprehensive overview of Ai's career.

Ai Weiwei


Zhang Huan
The Chinese Art Book
The Art Book: New Edition
The Art Museum
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