“Human Flow”: World-Renowned Chinese Artist & Activist Ai Weiwei On His Epic New Documentary On Refugees


Democracy Now! (10/9/17)

The United Nations says there are now more refugees worldwide than at any time since World War II. The journey and struggle of these 65 million refugees is the subject of Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei’s epic new documentary. It’s called “Human Flow.” For the documentary, Ai Weiwei traveled to 23 countries and dozens of refugee camps. We speak to world-renowned Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei.

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Ai Weiwei On His Childhood In A Labor Camp, Art, Activism, Prison & Freedom

Democracy Now! (10/9/17)

Ai Weiwei has been called the most powerful artist in the world—and the most dangerous man in China. Born in 1957 in Beijing, he spent his childhood and youth in a hard labor camp in the Gobi Desert in remote northwest China. As a student at Beijing Film Academy, he first became involved in art and activism. He spent his twenties in New York City and then returned to China. In 2008, after a massive earthquake in Sichuan, China, Ai Weiwei launched a citizen investigation to collect the names of the more than 5,000 schoolchildren who died, partially as a result of the highly shoddy government construction of the schools.

While his citizen investigation catapulted him to international fame, it also enraged Chinese government officials. In 2009, his popular blog was shut down. A few months later, police broke into his hotel room and attacked him, punching him in the face and causing cerebral hemorrhaging. In 2010, Ai Weiwei was placed under house arrest, after the Chinese government demolished his studio. Then, in 2011, he was arrested at the Beijing airport and held for 81 days, without any charges. Chinese authorities seized his passport and refused to return it until 2015. For more on the remarkable life of this world-renowned dissident and artist, we speak with Ai Weiwei.

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‘More Than A Political Status’: Ai WeiWei Captures Scale Of Global Refugee Crisis

By Michel Martin
NPR (10/14/17)

The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is internationally recognized for his massive, often provocative art installations. And yet, he’s spent most of the past decade under house arrest for his persistent defense of free expression.

But as soon as his passport was reissued by the Chinese government a couple of years ago, Ai embarked on possibly his most ambitious project yet: documenting the global refugee crisis. The result of his cinematic journey, Human Flow, is out this week.

Ai spoke with NPR about his new documentary, which aims to describe what’s become the largest forced migration since World War II — 65 million people displaced by war, famine and climate change.

But instead of following the experience of any one group of asylum seekers, Ai takes a more expansive tack, traveling to 23 different countries over the stretch of a year. Employing drone views, the film charts the journeys of divergent populations, including Syrians, Kenyans, Kurds, Palestinians and the Rohingya.

It’s a theme that also hits home for the Chinese dissident, having grown up in isolation with his poet father, who was exiled from China.

“Being a refugee is much more than a political status,” Ai says. “As a human being, if you sit in front of any of them, if you look in their eyes, you immediately understand who they are.”

Interview Highlights

On seeing himself as a refugee

I was born after the year my father was criticized as an enemy of the people. In China, that’s the biggest crime you can have. My father is simply a poet, a very well-known poet. So he had been exiled [and] I grew up with him in a very remote area, the desert actually, in northwest China. So I personally experienced how people have been mistreated and, of course, also really punished, for the crime he never really committed. So I share this kind of sentiment of people who miss everything and lost everything.

On what it means to be a refugee

Being a refugee is much more than a political status. It is the most pervasive kind of cruelty that can be exercised against a human being. By depriving a person of all forms of security, the most basic requirements of a normal life, by cruelly placing that person of inhospitable host countries that do not want to receive this refugee. You are forcibly robbing this human being of all aspects that would make life, not just tolerable, but meaningful in many ways.

On what his film adds to the discussion on the refugee crisis

As a human being, if you sit in front of any of them, if you look in their eyes, you immediately understand who they are. They are just like your brothers or your sisters or your own children or your grandma. It’s nothing different. It’s only something you can see from their eyes. They have courage. They can give up everything, just for safety or shelter, or to see their children’s future maybe will change because they take this action.

On his feelings for people who fear migrants

I have great sympathy for them, for the lacking of knowledge, and as a result, lacking of the understanding of humanity, and also [how they] underestimate their own possibilities to help another person, which can be considered as the highest ritual in many, many religions — just helping someone. Never to say this is too big or it’s not my problem. I do have a great, deepest sympathy for people who don’t have a clear vision about the world and about themselves, [and] don’t understand the value of life.

Link to Story and 6+-Minute Audio