In his art, Ai often transforms recognizable and valuable Chinese art objects into criticisms of current political and social issues. In his sculptural works, he uses reclaimed materials such as ancient pottery and wood from destroyed temples, and infuses them with sarcasm and irreverence in an effort to connect tradition with contemporary social concerns. He is also one of the earliest conceptual artists to use social media, such as Twitter and Instagram, as one of his primary media to communicate with a global public and to engage fellow artists with projects on a massive scale.
Born in 1957 in Beijing, Ai attended the Beijing Film Academy to study animation in 1976 and in 1982 attended the Parsons School for Design in New York. Following his release from prison in 2015, Ai left Beijing to live in Berlin, Germany. Becoming disappointed with Germany, Ai and his family moved to Cambridge, UK in 2019 where he currently lives and works.