Ai Weiwei released a documentary about the COVID-19 lockdown in Wuhan, China.
Ai Weiwei in Sydney, Australia in 2018. Courtesy of Don Arnold/WireImage via Getty Images.
Artist and activist Ai Weiwei released a new documentary today titled CoroNation. The nearly-two-hour-long film zeros in on the quarantine that was put in place in Wuhan, China in January following the outbreak of COVID-19 there; the first patient with COVID-19 symptoms was diagnosed in December 2019. The footage throughout the film was sourced from everyday people documenting life in Wuhan during the lockdown.
According to a statement quoted by The Art Newspaper, the film aims to illustrate “the Chinese crisis management and social control machine—through surveillance, ideological brainwashing, and brute determination to control every aspect of society.” Wuhan, a city with a population of 11 million people, has not reported a new case of COVID-19 since the middle of May.
The film includes scenes of couriers delivering essential goods to residents who can’t leave their community; a doctor clad in layers of protective clothing before working in a temporary coronavirus treatment center; and a grieving son attempting to retrieve his father’s ashes.
Ai, who left China in 2015 for Berlin and later the United Kingdom, is best known for creating provocative works that offer incisive critiques of systems of control in both China and the world at large. CoroNation, which Ai directed and produced remotely from Europe, is the latest in a series of his politically engaged documentaries, which he began making in 2003, and include his groundbreaking 2017 film Human Flow, which holistically examined the global refugee crisis.