Ai Weiwei was born in 1957 in Beijing. His father was the Chinese poet Ai Qing, who was denounced during the Anti-Rightist Movement, and in 1958 the family was sent to a labour camp in Beidahuang, Heilongjiang. Three years later they were exiled to Shihezi, Xinjiang and did not return to Beijing until 1976 at the end of the Cultural Revolution. In 1978, Ai studied animation at the Beijing Film Academy and was one of the founders of the early avant-garde art group, the Stars, which refused to create art that followed government guidelines.
He employs a variety of media, from sculptural installation and woodwork, to video and photography. In the spring of 2011, he was controversially arrested on suspicion of tax evasion. This incident caused a wave of international protest, and many important individuals called for his release. On June 22, 2011, the artist was granted bail with strict conditions. That same year, Ai was listed as one of the top 100 of most influential people in the world by Time Magazine.
Ai lives and works in the Art District of Dashanz in Beijing, where he and his studio are invasively monitored by government officials.