The scarf takes its motif from a papercut created by Ai Weiwei as part of his Papercut Portfolio, which was published by TASCHEN in a signed and limited edition in 2019.
Using the traditional Chinese art of the papercut, Ai Weiwei’s Citizens’ Investigation reflects on a momentous event for the artist’s life and work: on May 12, 2008, a massive earthquake of magnitude 7.9 struck China’s Sichuan Province. The papercut shows people amid the rubble: a woman holding up a picture of her missing child, helpers and investigators trying to find victims and survivors. The death toll reached almost 70,000 and appeared particularly high among schoolchildren, but the Chinese government barely provided any information about the victims’ identities. Ai Weiwei organized a team of volunteers to investigate and compile a list of the deceased children, a project known as the “Citizens’ Investigation.” They compiled a somber list of 5335 child victims with their name, age, gender, school, hometown, and family details. It was discovered that corruption had caused many of the schools to be constructed far below official safety standards, causing a disproportionate number of deaths when the earthquake struck.
Ai faced escalating government retaliation for his investigation and his political commentary on Twitter. In 2009 he went to Chengdu to testify as a witness for Tan Zuoren, an activist who had also been investigating corruption-related issues around the earthquake and was now facing trial for subversion of state power. The night before the trial, on August 12, Ai and his colleagues were assaulted in their hotel rooms and detained by police until the trial was over to prevent his testimony. The image in the papercut’s center is based on a famous photograph that Ai took of his colleagues and himself in the elevator immediately after the assault. Ai suffered a brain hemorrhage as a result of the police beating, which is documented in the CAT scans at the bottom of the composition. The Chinese phrases read “Citizens’ Investigation of the Great Earthquake of May 12” (left) and “Cherish Life and Reject Forgetting” (right).