NATIONAL BESTSELLER • In this beautifully illustrated and deeply philosophical graphic memoir, legendary artist Ai Weiwei explores the connection between artistic expression and intellectual freedom through the lens of the Chinese zodiac.
As a child living in exile during the Cultural Revolution, Ai Weiwei often found himself with nothing to read but government-approved comic books. Although they were restricted by the confines of political propaganda, Ai Weiwei was struck by the artists’ ability to express their thoughts on art and humanity through graphic storytelling. Now, decades later, Ai Weiwei and Italian comic artist Gianluca Costantini present Zodiac, Ai Weiwei’s first graphic memoir.
Inspired by the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac and their associated human characteristics, Ai Weiwei masterfully interweaves ancient Chinese folklore with stories of his life, family, and career. The narrative shifts back and forth through the years—at once in the past, present, and future—mirroring memory and our relationship to time. As readers delve deeper into the beautifully illustrated pages of Zodiac, they will find not only a personal history of Ai Weiwei and an examination of the sociopolitical climate in which he makes his art, but a philosophical exploration of what it means to find oneself through art and freedom of expression.
Contemplative and political, Zodiac will inspire readers to return again and again to Ai Weiwei’s musings on the relationship between art, time, and our shared humanity.
About the Author
Ai Weiwei leads a diverse and prolific practice that encompasses sculptural installation, filmmaking, photography, ceramics, painting, writing, and social media. Born in Beijing, China, in 1957, he is a conceptual artist who fuses traditional craftsmanship and his Chinese heritage, moving freely between a variety of formal languages to reflect on contemporary geopolitical and sociopolitical conditions. Ai Weiwei’s work and life regularly interact and inform one another, often extending to his activism and advocacy for international human rights. Elettra Stamboulis is a Greek Italian writer and art curator. She has written numerous graphic novels and comics articles that have published in many languages around the world. She specializes in reality-based comics and has curated European exhibitions of the work of Joe Sacco and Marjane Satrapi. As a curator, her work is dedicated to the promotion of artists at risk and she recently has curated exhibitions of work by Zehra Doğan, Badiucao, and Victoria Lomasko.
Gianluca Costantini is an Italian cartoonist, comic journalist, and activist. He has contributed to numerous publications and is the author of several graphic novels. He is well known for his drawing related to human rights campaigns all over the world. He collaborates with organizations such as the Committee to Protect Journalists, ActionAid, and SOS Méditerranée. In 2019, he received the Art and Human Rights Award from Amnesty International.
“Each chapter frames the artist’s take on traditional beliefs about the characteristics humans share with the 12 animals of the Chinese lunar calendar. Gianluca Costantini’s intricate line drawings pair with Elettra Stamboulis’s comic-bubble text to help expand Ai’s lifelong campaign for free expression to a new medium for a new generation.”—The New York Times
“Rich with metaphor, philosophical musings, and rebellious wisdom, the book is ‘comic’ in the classical sense—a work of komikos in which mirth and myth, commentary and critique are all combined, and tragedy is never too far off.”—Al Jazeera
“As serious as Zodiac’s subject matter may be, the book remains playful, from the curlicue tails of the speech balloons to Ai’s own irreverent expressions that often break the fourth wall. It is not strict biography but rather a vivid journey touching on some of the central philosophies that drive him, along with memorable moments in his life. . . . The pages become windowpanes, casual glimpses into Ai’s daily life. His universe is delightful, filled with honest and heartfelt conversations, and imbued with kindness in spades.”—The Los Angeles Review of Books
“This inventive graphic memoir follows Ai throughout his life, exploring how he found his own voice and mission in a country where bucking the government’s approved modes of expression could be life-ruining.”—BookRiot
“The internationally renowned Chinese artist recalls a life of resistance and oppression . . . A welcome introduction to the life and work of an exemplary artist.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“Poignant, meditative . . . This is a sage and inventive embroidery of philosophy, family memoir, and cultural history.”—Publishers Weekly