Ai Weiwei: ‘One voice’ for refugees in new expo

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AMSTERDAM: Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei unveiled on Thursday thousands of mobile phone pictures of refugees at his newest exhibition saying it aimed to speak with “one voice” for those who have fled to Europe’s shores.

Entitled #SafePassage, the exhibition in Amsterdam’s Foam museum of photography features images snapped by Ai since December, during visits to refugee camps in France, Greece, Israel, Syria and Turkey.

It also includes sculptured marble lifebuoys and a marble surveillance camera, which Ai said represent the “struggle between the individual and the structures put in place to dominate society.”

“I want to show my position” on the refugee crisis, Ai told journalists and art experts gathered for the exhibition’s launch at Foam, situated in the heart of the historic city’s canal belt.

“In many cases I wanted to give people one voice,” he said of the photographs, which are often composed of sequential shots of refugees coming ashore, while others see him posing for a selfie with smiling migrants in a refugee camp.

Ai has taken a close interest in the refugees’ plight after visiting the Greek island of Lesbos in December 2015.

He caused a stir in February after posing for India Today magazine on a Lesbos beach as Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian toddler whose tiny body was found lying face down on a Turkish beach in September, an image that reverberated around the world.

The 59-year-old then went on to wrap some 14,000 life jackets discarded by migrants around Berlin’s Konzerthaus theatre.

In Vienna in July, the Chinese artist floated 1,005 life jackets in a baroque pond at the city’s Belvedere palace.

Now a regular visitor to Lesbos, Ai plans to create a refugee memorial on the island.

More than one million people made the journey to Europe in 2015, the majority fleeing war in Syria and the Middle East, and a further 208,000 have come since January, according to UN figures in June.

Ai, China’s most prominent contemporary artist helped design the Bird’s Nest stadium for the Beijing Olympics, but his works have often fallen foul of China’s authorities. In 2011, he was detained for 81 days.

The #SafePassage exhibition runs until December 7, 2016.