Sunflower Seeds consists of millions of individually handcrafted porcelain sunflower seeds. The work was fabricated in the city of Jingdezhen in northern Jiangxi Province, a region historically famous for its kilns and the production of imperial porcelain. The sunflower seeds were made over a period of two years by 1600 mostly women artisans in a cottage-industry setting, rather than in a large-scale factory. Each individual seed, while seemingly identical to the others, is unique. The installation expands upon reoccurring themes present in Ai’s practice during the last two decades, including his concerns about human rights, authenticity, the individual’s role in society in the Internet age, and the disappearance of Chinese cultural and material history. The work also brings to mind the propaganda posters of the Cultural Revolution, depicting Mao Zedong as the sun and the citizens as sunflowers turning toward him. Ai said, “[In] the times I grew up, it was a common place symbol for The People, the sunflower faces the trajectory of the red sun, so must the masses feel towards their leadership. Handfuls were carried in pockets, to be consumed on all occasions both casual and formal. So much more than a snack, it was the minimal ingredient that constituted the most essential needs and desires. Their empty shells were the ephemeral traces of social activity. The least common denominator for human satisfaction. I wonder what would have happened without them?” In 2010, the work debuted in London in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, with over one hundred million seeds on view.


  • Title: Sunflower Seeds
  • Creator: Ai Weiwei | Courtesy Ai Weiwei Studio
  • Date Created: 2010
  • Rights: Courtesy Ai Weiwei Studio
  • Medium: Porcelain

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