Can Ai Weiwei Make Amends with a New Refugee-Focused Documentary?

His past actions have been branded crass and egotistical.

ai weiwei refugee crisis film
Ai Weiwei visits the Idomeni refugee camp, on the border of Greece and Macedonia, on March 11, 2016. Photo courtesy Matt Cardy/Getty Images.

He’s created a photograph of himself lying on a beach, recalling a shocking photo of drowned Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi. He’s hung life vests on the façade of a Berlin concert hall during a film festival, and then invited guests at a gala there to pose wearing emergency thermal blankets, trying to call attention to the Middle East refugee crisis.

Love him or hate him, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has aimed to leverage his celebrity and the sympathy he gained during his 81-day detention by the Chinese government to highlight the plight of the vulnerable and unfortunate. He’s often been met with criticism, saying the projects are more about his ego than about those he ostensibly is aiming to help, and commentators (including artnet News) have called his actions crass.

Now, according to Reuters, Ai, apparently unfazed by criticism, is planning a documentary film on the subject of the worst refugee crisis since World War II, which has seen millions flee the Middle East in hopes of escaping the conflict in Syria and the ravages of ISIS.

“I did hundreds of interviews,” Ai recently told Reuters in Bern, Switzerland, where he was speaking to reporters at the opening of “Chinese Whispers,” an exhibition of contemporary Chinese artists from the collection of Uli Sigg at the Paul Klee Center. Over several months, he said, he has visited refugee camps on the border of Greece and Macedonia and has spoken to those taking shelter there.

He says he plans to release the film in 2017. The art world will be watching to see if, when he steps behind the camera, he can fruitfully turn the focus on the victims of upheaval in the Middle East.


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