Ai Weiwei Sets Up Lesbos Studio and Calls for Monument Dedicated to Refugees

Hundreds have drowned in the Aegean Sea on the perilous journey to Europe.

Ai Weiwei on the Greek island of Lesbos. Photo: Santi Palacios/Associated Press

The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei announced plans to set up a studio on the Greek island of Lesbos where he also calls for the construction of a monument dedicated to migrants and refugees.

Lesbos is the European port of entry for hundreds of thousands of migrants and the front line of the refugee crisis that has gripped Europe in 2015. Last year, over 700 people have drowned in the Aegean Sea making the perilous journey from Turkey to Greece.

“A lot of people have lost their lives under the waves […] we need a memorial,” Ai told AFP. “I already set up a studio in Lesbos […] we are going to be involved with different projects.”

He added that his studios in Beijing and Berlin would be involved in the production of new material focusing on the crisis, and that the Lesbos studio would be occupied by six to ten of his students.

Last week, the artist visited the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island and shared images of the migrants’ living conditions on Instagram to raise awareness of the situation. “It’s very important to come and be part of it,” he emphasized.

“As an artist I have to relate to humanity’s struggles […] I never separate these situations from my art,” he told the Guardian.

The move marks a departure from the Ai’s China-focused artistic position as he starts to embrace a more global perspective in his politically charged oeuvre.

The artist criticized the international community’s reluctance to act decisively on the crisis. “The border is not in Lesbos” he explained, “It really [is] in our minds and in our hearts.”

He added “This is a very historical moment from any perspective. As an artist I want to be more involved, I want to [create] artworks in relation to the crisis and also create some kind of consciousness about the situation.”

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