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Ai Weiwei, the respected Chinese artist and activist, talks about his impressive 2015 exhibition at the Alcatraz prison, and his powerful new documentary about the worldwide refugee crisis, Human Flow.Ai Wei Wei is an impressive man whose mild demeanor belies his fierce determination to bring attention to political prisoners and refugees.
In this interview, we open by showing him iPhone pictures of his huge Lego tapestry depicting more than 180 political prisoners, which was exhibited at the former prison on Alcatraz island in San Francisco Bay in 2015, and more recently at the Hirshorn Gallery of the Smithsonian in Washington, DC. He was under house arrest in China at the time, and could not travel to install or view it.
At Alcatraz, visitors were invited to send an individualized postcard, and we discuss the reaction of John Kiriakou--the former CIA officer who was in prison then for confirming CIA torture--when he received more than 1,500 postcards. We talk about the remarkable, accidental meeting of Kiriakou and Ai in Berlin earlier this year.
Then we discuss his moving new film, Human Flow, which brings us up close to the experience of refugees, starting with people displaced from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Ai enables the viewer to see the hardships endured by families escaping war and death, in desperate crossings of the Mediterranean and arduous marches through Greece, Albania and other countries en route to Europe.
His scope expands to include 23 different sites of this human flow, without blame or political posturing; it's a humanitarian approach to a massive crisis that is mostly ignored in the US.
In addition to this moving documentary, Ai has just launched 300 installations in New York City, drawing attention of average people to the impact of walls, fences and borders.
You can see the trailer, a video interview with Ai and much more, here. You can find my special podcast report on the Alcatraz installation here.