Ai Weiwei documentary gets middle-finger salute at Sundance

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When filmmaker Alison Klayman accepted a Sundance Film Festival award over the weekend for her documentary ‘Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry,’ she asked everyone in the room to raise their middle fingers in salute to the Chinese artist whose online activism has repeatedly gotten him into trouble with Beijing authorities.

Why middle fingers, you may ask? The impolite gesture is a reference to Ai’s photographic series known as ‘Finger,’ in which he brandishes his middle digit in front of famous national monuments and structures around the world, including the White House, the Eiffel Tower and Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.


The middle finger has become a kind of artistic calling card for Ai -- a playfully rude symbol that encapsulates the artist’s jovial and rebellious spirit.

He formalized the gesture in a sculpture he created and titled ‘Marble Arm,’ which depicts a disembodied arm and hand with a raised middle finger. When he was recovering from brain surgery in 2009, Ai photographed himself giving the middle finger to Chinese authorities, whom he accused of initiating the assault that led to the injury requiring surgery. ‘Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry’ won a special jury prize handed out in the Sundance festival’s documentary section. Klayman started the movie before the artist’s arrest in May and completed it after he was released on bail in June.

Klayman took a picture of the audience flipping the bird and said she will be sending it to Ai, who lives in Beijing.


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-- David Ng