Ai Weiwei's Greek show highlights 'shameful' response to refugee crisis

Thu May 19, 2016 11:42am EDT
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By Karolina Tagaris

ATHENS (Reuters) - Beneath the Greek and EU flags flying outside the Athens museum hosting Ai Weiwei's new exhibition, the Chinese artist has hoisted his own to draw attention to what he calls Europe's "shameful" response to the refugee crisis.

Ai's flags of Greece and Europe are colored the metallic yellow of the emergency blankets aid workers hand out to stop hypothermia. A third flag bears the outline of Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy whose body washed up on a Turkish beach last year.

Ai, often described as China's most high-profile artist, dissident and political activist, has visited camps in Greece to film a documentary about the refugee crisis, and has also set up a studio on Lesbos, the island on whose beaches nearly a million migrants entered the European Union last year.

Speaking ahead of the opening of his first major exhibition in Greece on Thursday, Ai said he was "deeply affected" by the exodus of people, many fleeing war in Syria and beyond.

"I see how Europe reacted to it. I think it's shameful, it's questionable, in many ways it's not legal and it's immoral in many ways," Ai told Reuters.

The exhibition at Athens' Museum of Cycladic Art includes new works inspired by both the museum's archaeological collection and the refugee crisis.

One is a rubber tire carved out of fine marble, evoking the countless inflatable devices that washed ashore on Greek islands as refugees attempted the short but perilous boat journey from Turkey.

Another, called "Tear Bottle/Tear Gas Canister", brings together a gas canister, used by Macedonian police during clashes with migrants, and an antique tear bottle, a delicate vessel used in ancient times to collect the tears of mourners.   Continued...

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei speaks to the media during a news conference ahead of an exhibition 'Chinese Whispers' at the Center Paul Klee in Bern, Switzerland April 27, 2016. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich