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Simply put, Ai Weiwei is one of the most prolific and courageous contemporary artists that we have the absolute privilege to be able to enjoy. By teaming this amazing guy with the amazing author/journalist Barnaby Martin, The Hanging Man is a snappy, sympathetic, and well thought out read. Anyone who is interested in art, politics, human rights, or Chinese history will have a field day.
The Hanging Man dives into the 2011 arrest of the politically notorious Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei. Considering the subject of this book, the mere 244 pages talks about a lot more than just his art. Martin provides a deep history and will surely influence how we know and understand the artist today. He discusses past poets and artists who faced similar, or even worse, circumstances within the political context of China. The vocabulary is direct and the author makes no excuses for excessive language, hitting the point straight and hard. It’s shocking and will no doubt surprise you.
Martin covers years of historical oppression in a country that’s constantly under international scrutiny for its political procedures, diplomatic relations, and dodgy human rights practices. Martin skilfully wrote on all of these issues, doing more than just a shallow skim as typically found in an artist’s profile book.
In the best way possible, absorbing all of the heavy content in The Hanging Man doesn’t consume you or make you sad. Rather, it makes you mad. Real mad. Mad over the current crises in our own home and abroad. Rather than feeling beaten down by everyone upstairs, Martin uses Ai Weiwei as a figure to be followed. Through art, Ai Weiwei figured out the way he could bring to light (nationally and internationally) conflicts and issues that still plague his home today. Go forth and fight the power!