Ai Weiwei, detained by the Chinese authorities and unreachable since 3 April, has joined a select band of artists who have risked everything for their ideals.

This article titled “Ai Weiwei: the artist as political hero” was written by Jonathan Jones, for guardian.co.uk on Monday 4th April 2011 17.30 UTC

It says a lot for the art of Ai Weiwei that his installation Sunflower Seeds has continued to move and fascinate visitors to Tate Modern even after health and safety issues caused it to be roped off. Denied the intimacy of walking over millions of porcelain replicas of seeds and running handfuls of them through their fingers as the artist had intended, people stare instead from the Turbine Hall bridge, or walk alongside the grey carpet of myriad seeds. It is curiously beguiling, like looking into Monet’s waterlily paintings, except what daunts the mind here is not endless reflection in calm water but the thought of how many tiny fragile things you are looking at, and the notion that each represents a soul, a person, a life. A life that could bloom into a sunflower, but is instead frozen forever as a monochrome seed.

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