Skip to main content

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei to create refugee memorial on Lesbos

More than one million migrants and refugees reached Europe in 2015, mainly fleeing violence in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria
Chinese activist and artist Ai Weiwei walks on a beach near the town of Mytilene, on the Greek island of Lesbos, on 1 January 2016 (AFP)

Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei on Friday announced plans to create a memorial on the Greek island of Lesbos to the plight of refugees, many of whom have lost their lives trying to reach Europe.

"A lot of people have lost their lives under the waves... we need a memorial," Ai told AFP after a news conference on the project.

"I [have] already set up a studio in Lesbos ... we are going to be involved with different projects," said Ai, adding that his workshops in China and Germany as well as a number of his students would be involved.

"This is a very historical moment from any perspective. As an artist I want to be more involved, I want to [create] artworks in relation to the crisis and also create some kind of consciousness about the situation," he said.

Ai told Associated Press he expected to visit Lesbos several times over the year ahead, or even beyond, if the crisis persisted beyond 2016.

The artist earlier this week paid a holiday visit to mostly Syrian refugees flocking to the Greek island of Lesbos, tweeting photos and videos that bore witness to their plight.

He posted a video on Monday showing the arrival of a rubber dinghy carrying desperate people to the island's shores from nearby Turkey.

"It's very important to come and be part of it," Ai said on Friday.

The 58-year-old also retweeted photos, including one of him posing with Norwegian humanitarian workers from the group Drop in the Ocean.  

Another shows him on a beach holding a child's life-vest, an object that has come to symbolise the human cost of the migrant flight, with over 700 people having drowned in the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece this year.

More than  3,000 people drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean in their bid to reach Europe in 2015.

Ai, an outspoken critic of the Chinese government, has made ample use of his passport since he got it back in July, four years after it was confiscated.

During a visit to London in September, the artist said he was "very proud" of the "civilised" welcome that Germany - where his son lives - has accorded to refugees.

More than one million migrants and refugees reached Europe in 2015, mainly fleeing violence in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, of whom four out of five travelled via the Greek islands.