Asking the eternal why?
I've just indulged in a few museum visits in London, an activity that doesn't often present itself in Thailand.
Seeing the Ai Weiwei retrospective at the Royal Academy was eye-opening, not to mention awe-inspiring and mind-boggling. He has single-handedly put China at the forefront in terms of art. He spent much time in the West, which truly expanded his horizons in the vastness of the art field, bringing him in touch with the works of Marcel Duchamp, Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol, and yet it was China, his birthplace and nemesis, that made him what he is.
Skills and talent he had in spades, yet without the provocation, the suppression that he suffered at the hands of the Chinese authorities, he might not have created such magnificent works as S.A.C.R.E.D., the six "boxes" where viewers peek in to observe Ai's surreal existence during his months of incarceration, or the ironically carved jade pieces in the shape of handcuffs, or the marble child's pushchair which was a reaction to the invasion of privacy of his child by government stalkers.
To reflect the Chinese government's corruption and attempts to cover up the facts about of the deaths of up to 5,000 children when their school buildings collapsed from the Sichuan earthquake in 2008, he created Straight, an amazing sculpture made of the mangled steel rods from the collapsed buildings, each straightened by hand into its original form, and laid together in an undulating pile that represents bringing uniformity to chaos, of making things right.
The Tree installation in front of the RA, with a virtual forest of eight trees assembled from dead tree parts, represents the government's attempt to make "One China" out of diverse ethnic groups.
This is not a review, but just a testament to the magnitude of his works. To hear or read about Ai Weiwei is one thing. To actually bear witness to these works is another. You can only marvel at the soul and spirit and the creative mind that worked in tandem to produce these huge monuments, that are made of so such simple materials like dead trees and broken bricks from his torn-down studio, from piles of firewood, and old chairs and tables, yet are able to project such deep meaning.
I have trouble coming up with the lead to my weekly column. Physically, human beings are the same. Yet there is so much disparity between what the mind can achieve for each person. Is it because Ai Weiwei has managed to tap into the full potential of his brain's creative capacity, the same way that Albert Einstein or Stephen Hawking have? Were they born with something special that the rest of us lack, or have we just not bothered to see what we are truly capable of?
Another aspect of my museum visits that fascinated me no end was a visit to the Tate Modern. Joseph Beuys' Lightning With Stag In Its Glare, as well as his blackboard with diagrams and notes on his concept of direct democracy all reflected aspects of this great artists, but for me, it was the young schoolchildren who caught my eye.
Small groups of children were being introduced to abstract art. "It's like telling a whole story with just one image," the guide began. After a few introductory lines to give them a feel for what they should be looking for, the guide gave them an assignment, using clippings from newspapers, paper and pencil. Soon the kids were sprawled out on the floor, furiously writing or drawing whatever it is they were inclined to do.
In another room, kids had been paired up, one leading another. The one in front was looking at the art works through a piece of colour gel paper. I have no idea what the assignment was, but I'm sure that it gave them a different perspective to the art works on display.
Back to our own school curriculum, one of my pet peeves. Why can't we have similar outings and ways of learning that teach kids how to think for themselves rather than just tell them what to think? The world around us should only be a guideline on which to latch our thoughts, and from there we should be able to jump forward into a space without limits. But that can only happen if our brains have been piqued with curiosity, and trained to believe that there is much to discover out there, and that we have the capacity to do it if we so desire.
Usnisa Sukhsvasti is the features editor of the Bangkok Post.
M.R. Usnisa Sukhsvasti is Bangkok Post’s features editor, a teacher at Chulalongkorn University and a social worker.