Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei has set up a studio on the Greek island of Lesvos to bring the world’s attention to the plight of refugees fleeing war and conflict.
The island has been the main point of entry into the European Union for hundreds of thousands of refugees over the past year and the studio will produce several projects with themes related to the refugee crisis from him and his students, Ai told reporters.
Ai said he expected to visit Lesvos several times over the next year. He said about six to 10 of his students from China and Germany would be working at the studio.
“As an artist, I have to relate to humanity’s struggles … I never separate these situations from my art,” he said. The artist is as well-known for his clashes with the Chinese authorities as for his work and even had his passport revoked by Chinese authorities in an attempt to silence the outspoken artist.
Ai has been openly critical of the Chinese government’s position on human rights, democracy, and free speech, both through his art and personal statements.
Ai spent several days volunteering on Lesvos and sharing his experiences via his Instagram profile, which has almost 200,000 followers.
The artist gave his followers an insight into what daily life is like for refugees arriving in Europe, sharing pictures of living conditions in the camp. In a photo of migrants huddled around a fire, the artist wrote “In the Moria refugee camp there [is] no heating. No light.”
He praised the efforts of the people of Lesvos for having a “very good understanding” of the refugees’ plight,their needs and for being “very helpful and very tolerant”, but emphasized they had limited resources to deal with the issue.
He also praised the impressive work of several foreign non-governmental organizations, adding that there was a lack of awareness of the situation in the rest of the world.
“The border is not in Lesvos, it really [is] in our minds and in our hearts ,” Ai said.