If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Ai Weiwei: Sunflower Seeds

This video brought to you by Tate.org.uk

In the process of crafting millions of porcelain sunflower seeds, Chinese artist Ai WeiWei creates a work of art as well as a positive social project for the village in rural China he employed to make the seeds. Follow Sunflower Seeds on its remarkable journey from conception to delivery, and hear the artist talk about his unique socio-political approach to making art.
Created by Tate.

Want to join the conversation?

  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user The Q
    Who else loved the part where it was explained the symbolism of the sunflower with relation to Mao's revolution, while the kiln showed a blazing solar-like hole, and then open right up as if on the very surface of the sun?
    (25 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • old spice man green style avatar for user Don Spence
    At the end, why are the people leveling the seeds wearing masks, but the artist is not?

    How could he possibly fund this? Is there some other form of monetary support?

    At least in this piece, Ai WeiWei does or says nothing that would impugn the Chinese Communist Party, and explains the relationship of Mao and sunflowers. So why does the party persecute him?
    (6 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • mr pants teal style avatar for user Anthony Natoli
      As to people wearing masks, I expect leveling the porcelain seeds would generate clay dust which is bad for their lungs, but the artist was being risky or foolish for not wearing a mask.

      As to funding, at , a screen says that it is an annual art commission sponsored by Unilever Corporation. Some corporations like to sponsor the arts, possibly for marketing purposes to make the corporations look good.

      As to why the Chinese Communist party persecutes Ai WeiWei, he is apparently a political activist. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ai_Weiwei
      (11 votes)
  • cacteye yellow style avatar for user Karlar
    What is RMB at about ?
    (5 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user landon.hopkins
    Why do I like this so much?
    (2 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user

Video transcript

start? ok huh yeah At first people would have the impression those are real sunflower seeds. Because they are fake seeds, it takes them a while to adjust their mind is they would always say: Is that possible? Then they would pick up a few Some would even want to put them in their mouth to try. I always think art as a tool to really set up new questions to create a basic structure which can be open to possibilities. It is most interesting part in my work. I want people who don’t understand art to understand what I am doing Normally the porcelain production requires around 30 stages. And you cannot really escape from it The sunflower seeds are made in a town called Jingdezhen. It’s about 1000km from Beijing. In the old times, the whole town made porcelain for the Emperor’s court. For generations people tried to refine the shape of a bowl or a vase. And there was a very fixed language. We have been working here for five or six years. To try to find out what are the possibilities of employing the old technique to modern contemporary language. They should be kept small. Make it smaller. Here we have an incomplete piece Yes there is a missing bit, like a mouse has nibbled it. Because of the quantity it takes around 1600 people and more in this town so that means almost everybody knows somebody making sunflower seeds. Even the taxi drivers would take about it but nobody really understands. If you tell them it’s for an exhibition, nobody understands why you have accept this. This one you cannot find it anymore. This was from the time of Fu Jia Yuan. I can’t take so many of these. Choose choose. How much is this one? 50 RMB each. I’ll give you 300 RMB -This is 260 RMB -No, I’ll give 200 RMB. I’ve bought so much, how can you charge this? Yes it's a very funny position. You realise people start telling you oh, he's the one making sunflower seeds and we really love your work and can you give us more work? - Are you happy to work on this? - Yes, yes! Of course. It brings business There is nothing much to do here anymore The actual production is very much like in the old times. You have a group of people working together. Different people take on different procedures. When it comes to the painting procedure. It needs the most people because every side takes about three to four strokes. The more skillful ones take three strokes, and some may take four or five. You can also bring them home because that is a really the old tradition people produce things at home you know you can work for one hour then you have to feed your child then you have to cook for your husband maybe go out to buy vegetables then work for another half hour waiting for food to be cooked that's really a good way to work. She is the oldest amongst us. Auntie, how old are you? Me? Sixty That’s good, just a little older than me. Are you kidding? I am over fifty. So how long have you been in this trade? Me? Over thirty years. I have done this for over thirty years. Colour painting? Yes colour painting. Did you ever paint… Mao Zedong? I was working while Mao Zedong was still alive but I never painted him. Not everyone can paint him In the political area all the paintings have sunflower seeds. Whenever Chairman Mao comes out, there are sunflowers around him. That means Chairman Mao is the sun. And all the people loyalto the party are the sunflowers. Sunflowers supported the whole revolution, spiritually and in material ways. Thanks for painting so many sunflower seeds. No need to thanks me. After all I did earn some money from it. How much effort did you put it? How much effort? After all, I have earned about 2000 to 3000 RMB. They are all nice people You feel like you might have to make some more or make some other kind of project which can meet their needs. I think the quantity we made for Tate is already beyond imagination and it is going to be some kind of myth in the history of this town.