Ai Weiwei Designs Masks With a Message


One mask depicts a middle finger, stuck defiantly upward, silk-screened in black ink on a blue background. Others feature sunflower seeds, a surveillance camera or creatures from ancient Chinese mythology. All these masks are works by the artist and dissident Ai Weiwei.

The assortment of masks, made of nonsurgical cloth, will be sold on eBay for Charity, from Thursday until June 27, to raise funds for humanitarian and emergency relief efforts around the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr. Ai said that the idea came to him late one night; he’s been working across time zones, with a team in Wuhan, on a documentary about Covid-19. While making carvings with his son, he printed a middle finger on a mask and posted it to Instagram. (He has used this image before, including in a “Study of Perspective” series that had backdrops of different monuments.)

People wanted to know where they could get one. “I wanted to do something,” he said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “I didn’t want to just be sitting there and waiting for the time to pass.”

Many of the images on the masks relate to Mr. Ai’s campaign for free speech and human rights globally. The mask itself has had many shades of political implications in its history, ranging from revolution to robbery, Mr. Ai said, which makes it a powerful and charged canvas. “It’s like a political ready-made,” he said.

Although the distribution is digital, it’s also a rare chance to see Mr. Ai’s work in person right now, said Alexandra Munroe, a curator at the Guggenheim who collaborated on the masks with Mr. Ai as an independent project. “It’s also an artwork you can touch and hold,” she said, adding that “in this time of lockdown and cancellations, we’re making something.”


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