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Artist Ai Weiwei Establishes Studio in Lesbos to Draw Attention to the Refugee Crisis

Nearly 500,000 traveled through the Greek island in 2015.


A photo posted by Ai Weiwei (@aiww) on

The Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei has become world famous for his art, for his activism against the Chinese government, and for his political and cultural criticism. Now the artist is using his celebrity to draw international attention to another issue: the plight of refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos. Ai is opening a studio on Lesbos, where he and six to ten students will create art in response to the ongoing migration crisis.

“As an artist, I have to relate to humanity’s struggles,” Ai told The Guardian. “I never separate these situations from my art,” he said.

Ai told Agence France-Presse that he’s particularly interested in memorializing those who died while fleeing war-torn countries like Iraq and Syria. “A lot of people have lost their lives under the waves ... we need a memorial,” he said.

More than 3,700 refugees died crossing the Mediterranean last year. The death toll includes 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian toddler whose body washed up upon the shores of Turkey in September and whose image all too briefly drew the world’s eyes to the migrant crisis.

An estimated 465,000 asylum seekers crossed the Aegean Sea to Lesbos in 2015, swelling the island to five times its normal population. An online petition to award the Nobel Peace Prize to the people of Lesbos for their generosity has gained more than 12,000 signatures.

Ai praised Lesbos for its “very good understanding” of refugees, but emphasized that the island does not have enough resources to deal with the humanitarian disaster.

“The border is not in Lesbos, it really [is] in our minds and in our hearts,” the artist said.

The artist just completed the first of many trips he has promised to take to Lesbos, and has shared a number of Instagram snaps of refugees, aid workers, and living conditions on the island.

A photo posted by Ai Weiwei (@aiww) on

A photo posted by Ai Weiwei (@aiww) on

#refugees #lesvos

A photo posted by Ai Weiwei (@aiww) on

(Via Huffington Post. Cover image via Instagram)

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