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Ai Weiwei and his newly designed human rights flag
Ai Weiwei and his newly designed human rights flagvia Fly the Flag

Ai Weiwei has designed a new flag for human rights

The activist artist is making a visual stance for change

Since childhood, Ai Weiwei has known what it is to be treated less than human. When just a boy, the Chinese activist artist and his family were exiled for five years. Ai’s father, Ai Qing, although no activist, was considered an “enemy of the people” for his poetry and radical politics during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Weiwei has since become one of the world’s most iconic artists, turning personal experiences, including his own later imprisonment, into a battle against injustice.

Ai has now accepted the call from human rights charities and UK arts organisations to be the designer behind a flag commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The flag’s design is to be unveiled on December 10, before it will be flown from UK schools, faith groups, hospitals and prisons for a seven-day human rights campaign in June 2019. Ai’s flag features a footprint, a universal sign of what it means to be human, as well as a reference to worldwide migration as increasingly more people have been forced to escape their homes through climate change, conflict, oppression or difference. The footprint was based on a series of photographs featuring muddy footprints of Rohingya refugees fleeing attacks from Myanmarese soldiers. The sign is undoubtedly inspired by his latest work on migration, culminating in his lauded documentary Human Flow.

Of the campaign, Weiwei said in a statement: “I am honoured to have the opportunity to design a flag for the 70th anniversary for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As we all come to learn, human rights are the precious result from generation after generation’s understanding of the human struggle. I am proud to be a part of this force.”

Following the recent demolition of his Beijing studio, Ai has focused his work lens back on China, with his first major institutional show in Los Angeles, Ai Weiwei: Life Cycle, running from now until March 3 2019. His oeuvre examines the global refugee crisis, while this continuing exhibition explores contemporary Chinese society, pushing the idea that exiled art is a way to push China forward into a radical new age, using Chinese mythology and symbols in his work to do so.

“China has a poor human rights record. The people have no political right to vote, cannot freely express their opinions, and an independent media does not exist,” Ai said in a recent conversation with Dazed. “Minority groups, including Tibetans and Uighurs, face particularly critical repression, with millions of them continuing to live under poor human rights conditions. This is not an issue only facing dissidents, of which there are not so many in China. Of those who are dissidents, they are either imprisoned or forced out. Using Chinese materials in Life Cycle is a way to extend our concern and to make a clear expression that bridges human consciousness with mankind’s current condition. We can only find ourselves by examining how we treat others.” 

You can learn more about the Fly the Flag project here.