Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has been spending the past week on the Greek island of Lesvos (also known as Lesbos), where he reached out to the many refugees and announced plans to create memorial to their plight. In a news conference, he said that he has already set up a studio in Lesvos and that his future projects will involve his workshops and students in China and Germany. Through his Instagram profile, Ai Weiwei shared dozens of photographs and videos of the situation on the island. “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,” he said.
Through his social networks profiles, Ai Weiwei created a lot of documentary material which appeals to the plight of the refugees fleeing violence in countries like Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. More than one million migrants reached Europe in 2015, of whom four in five travelled via the Greek island, and nearly 700 have drowned in the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece, trying to reach a better life. In Lesvos, Ai Weiwei gave some 200,000 of his followers on Instagram an insight into the daily life of refugees within many camps across the island. In many of the pictures we see him in company of new arrivals, while many videos show overcrowded boats approaching the Greek coast, as well as the volunteers from Norway, Spain and the Netherlands. In one image, Ai Weiwei is posing with Norwegian humanitarian workers from the group Drop in the Ocean. The artist also praised the citizens of the island and its mayor, Spyridon Galinos, for their understanding and tolerance towards those in need.
Ai Weiwei’s visit to Lesvos aims to highlight the plight of refugees and to raise awareness of the critical conditions they’re in. In September 2015, he joined a solidarity march for refugees with fellow artist Anish Kapoor, during which he also said he was “very proud” of the “civilised” welcome that Germany, a country his son lives in and which has granted him a visa inside the newly regained passport last year, has given the refugees. Before Ai Weiwei, actors Susan Sarandon and Mandy Patinkin also visited Lesvos in the fall 2015. Addressing the lack of willingness to act in Europe and the rest of the world, the artist told Associated Press that he will visit the island several times over the course of 2016, if the crisis persists. “The border is not in Lesbos, it really is in our minds and in our hearts.”
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All images courtesy of Ai Weiwei.