In 2011, Ai's political activism, particularly his criticism of the Chinese government, led to his eighty-one-day imprisonment by Chinese authorities. S.A.C.R.E.D. is the first work Ai created in response to that imprisonment. These six dioramas document the most painful and intimate moments of his detainment, including the moment he was led into his cell, the periods of interrogation, and the daily activities of eating, sleeping, showering, and using the toilet, all under the watchful eyes of two guards.
The title connotes religious associations with ritual acts, sacrificial punishment, and perhaps even tomb burials. It is also an acronym. The letters stand for each diorama’s subtitle—Supper, Accusers, Cleansing, Ritual, Entropy, Doubt. In addition to corresponding to the daily activities represented, these subtitles evoke the life of Christ and the Stations of the Cross. At the same time, the exterior of the cell is reminiscent of Minimalist sculpture, while what we see inside is the most minimal human condition.