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Ai Weiwei documentary gets middle-finger salute at Sundance

January 30, 2012 |  7:19 am

Ai Weiwei made a specialty of photographing his own middle finger in front of national monuments around the world. Audiences at Sundance saluted the Chinese artist with their own raised middle fingers over the weekend

When filmmaker Alison Klayman accepted a Sundance Film Festival award over the weekend for her documentary "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry," she asked everyone in the room to raise their middle fingers in salute to the Chinese artist whose online activism has repeatedly gotten him into trouble with Beijing authorities.

Why middle fingers, you may ask? The impolite gesture is a reference to Ai's photographic series known as "Finger," in which he brandishes his middle digit in front of famous national monuments and structures around the world, including the White House, the Eiffel Tower and Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

The middle finger has become a kind of artistic calling card for Ai -- a playfully rude symbol that encapsulates the artist's jovial and rebellious spirit.

He formalized the gesture in a sculpture he created and titled "Marble Arm," which depicts a disembodied arm and hand with a raised middle finger. When he was recovering from brain surgery in 2009, Ai photographed himself giving the middle finger to Chinese authorities, whom he accused of initiating the assault that led to the injury requiring surgery.

"Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry" won a special jury prize handed out in the Sundance festival's documentary section. Klayman started the movie before the artist's arrest in May and completed it after he was released on bail in June.

Klayman took a picture of the audience flipping the bird and said she will be sending it to Ai, who lives in Beijing.

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Art review: "Ai Weiwei: Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads" at LACMA

-- David Ng

Photo: Director Alison Klayman takes a photo after asking the audience to give her the middle finger as she accepts the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Prize: Documentary for the film "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry" at the Sundance Film Festival. Credit: Danny Moloshok / Associated Press

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