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Ai Weiwei’s #SafePassage
#SafePassage, 2016© Ai Weiwei Studio

Ai Weiwei working on new show about refugee crisis

#SafePassage will open in Amsterdam next month

Arguably the most vocal living artist, Ai Weiwei has long since used his art to protest against surveillance and censorship, as well as the cover-ups and corruption of his home country’s government, China. He’s also suffered for it – locked up and held captive by authorities, tortured, been hospitalised, and had his passport taken away from him – yet none of this has weakened his fight.

Most recently he’s turned his attentions to the refugee crisis, ongoing in Europe. Earlier this year he controversially posed as drowned Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi, encouraged socialites to take selfies in refugee jackets (described as “offensively tasteless” by critics), brought a grand piano to an Idomeni refugee camp in March, and last month covered Vienna’s Belvedere Palace in his (again, controversial) life jacket installation, “F. Lotus”, five months after he debuted it at a Berlin concert hall. Most notably, though, was closing his Danish exhibition, Ruptures, early in protest over a  law which could enable authorities to seize valuables from refugees. While we’ll have to wait for his upcoming film, cut from 600 hours of footage filmed in Greek and Macedonian refugee camps, his latest announcement is a new show at Amsterdam’s FOAM, opening next month.

Titled #SafePassage, the exhibition continues Weiwei’s activism around the refugee crisis and will draw parallels between the artist’s reasons for leaving his own homeland, when his passport was finally returned to him in July 2015, with the experiences that migrants and refugees face when leaving theirs, such as risking “their lives to reach Europe, often to find their path barred by arduous asylum procedures and xenophobia”, as explained in the show’s press release.

Split into two parts, #SafePassage will begin with works created during Weiwei’s time under surveillance by the Chinese government, before exploring work created when and after he left China for Europe to make a new home and set up his studio in Berlin. This shift can be seen mostly through his process of “self-surveillance” – defined by his constant updates on his Instagram feed, which has, since first visiting the Greek Island of Lesbos in December last year, “functioned as a de facto real-time newswire” as he travelled to various camps.

The second half of his show will see the artist cover the walls of FOAM with thousands of, mostly candid, pictures of the living conditions in the camps,  shot on his mobile phone. Said to “reflect the vast array of personal encounters” that Weiwei experienced with different people in the camps, the wall display will be accompanied by his marble sculptures, “Chang’an Boulevard” (2004) and “On The Boat” (2016).

#SafePassage will run at Amsterdam’s FOAM from 16 September – 7 December 2016