Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has described the European refugee situation as a “test for humanity”. Speaking in the Swiss capital Bern to promote a collection of contemporary Chinese art, he said his next big project would be a film on the migration issue.
Ai said he had amassed 600 hours of footage for a film due out next year. It includes over 100 interviews and involves around eight shooting teams in different locations.
Ai said the refugees he interviewed were not coming to Europe “just for a better life. They want to come to be safe or to give their children a chance to study. If there is no war they want to go back to their nation. I trust them because they really have a very different culture and different language, different religion and traditions.”
European countries needed to more to ease the crisis, he urged.
“Europe has not been acting as a society which can offer this very essential help or sympathy for those unfortunate people. Which is really a test for our humanity and our human rights conditions. I feel quite surprised how even European nations and communities are divided on these issues and don’t really come up with any sound or acceptable solutions.”
“I think Europe still does have the potential and morally, legally, logistically does have the responsibility to come up with more rational solutions than this.”
The artist is currently based in Berlin, where he is also teaching a class about the refugees’ plight at Berlin University of the Arts. Ai said he had spent the past four months “concentrating on the refugee situation”.
The Chinese government returned his passport in 2015, allowing him to travel for the first time in several years. He said he had since travelled to the Turkish-Syrian and Lebanese-Jordan borders and dozens of refugee camps. He currently has a studio on the Greek island of Lesbos.
“For me, it’s a way to understand the world outside China. I was forbidden to move for the past 4-5 years and I have to catch up my study about what the other parts of the world are like. I needed a more balanced view of the world,” he said.
Ai was speaking on Wednesday ahead of a panel discussion with Jacques Herzog of the renowned Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron at Zentrum Paul Klee, where works by Swiss collector Uli Sigg are on show. Sigg is recognised as having the world’s biggest collection of modern Chinese art. A work by Ai is included the exhibition.
Sigg has donated 1,510 works from his collection to a Herzog & de Meuron-designed museum, M+, opening in Hong Kong in 2019. The museum will house 24 pieces by Ai.
Ai noted that his first solo show had taken place in Bern in 2004. “It’s a very special feeling to come back to this city.”