Ai Weiwei Reiterates Criticism of EU’s Handling of Refugee Crisis Ahead of Greek Debut

Don't trust in politicians, he said.

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.
Ai Weiwei, curator Michael Frahm, and technicians install the exhibition. Photo: Museum of Cycladic Art via Facebook

Ai Weiwei, curator Michael Frahm, and technicians install the exhibition.
Photo: Museum of Cycladic Art via Facebook

The Chinese dissident artist and activist Ai Weiwei has labelled the European Union’s handling of the refugee crisis as “shameful” ahead of the opening of his new exhibition at the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens.

The artist will unveil new works—dealing extensively with the migrant crisis—created at the studio he established on the Greek island of Lesbos, where 80 percent of migrants from the Middle East and North Africa first enter Europe.

Having endured exile in is childhood and prison in adulthood, Ai has experienced severe living conditions in his homeland firsthand, but he admitted to the Guardian that he “could never have imagined conditions like this.”

Ai Weiwei takes a selfie with one of his sculptures at his Greek museum debut. Photo: Museum of Cycladic Art via Facebook

Ai Weiwei takes a selfie with one of his sculptures at his Greek museum debut.
Photo: Museum of Cycladic Art via Facebook

Addressing the EU deal with Turkey—in which it was agreed that migrants landing on Greece’s shores would be returned to Turkey—the artist said, “It is not legal or moral; it is shameful and it is not a solution. It will cause problems later.”

Taking a swipe at Europe’s political elite, he added, “People are being selfish, very greedy, short-sighted, and ridiculous. This is not a regional problem; it is a human problem. The bad guys are everywhere, but also the good guys are. We have to trust in humanity but not trust in politicians.” His sentiments echo the words of South African artist William Kentridge.

Exhibition curator Michael Frahm told the Art Newspaper that Ai’s first museum show in Greece aims to “give a human face to the crisis,” as works such as iPhone Wallpaper (2016) a collage of 12,030 images taken on the artist’s mobile phone; and Lesvos Photographs (2015–16), a series of 600 photos appropriated from the Photographic Society of Mytilene, testify.

A photo posted by Ai Weiwei (@aiww) on

Elsewhere, the artist’s Tyre (2016), consisting of rubber lifebuoys sculpted out of Chinese marble, and outside the museum, a series of gold and silver flags resembling the emergency blankets handed to new arrivals, also reflect the migrant crisis reinforce the show’s theme.

“The goal is to make everyone aware of the struggle for refugees,” Ai said. “We need to protect humanity. The fight is endless. If we don’t fight, our children have to fight.”

According to the Art Newspaper, 10 percent of the exhibition’s proceeds will be donated to Médecins Sans Frontières and the Greek charity METAdrasi.

“Ai Weiwei at Cycladic” is on view at the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens, May 20–October 10, 2016.


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