This week, President Donald Trump doubled his anti-immigrant rhetoric and his plans for the US-Mexico border in his first Oval Office televised speech. While the debate continues to rage over whether a wall will deter even migrants from entering America, there is a so-called migrant that he could prevent from entering: Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.
"Even (though) I've already spent 12 years in the United States, it's very difficult for anyone, especially foreigners, to deal with the current situation," said Ai in his studio. Berlin, where he lives in political exile since the Chinese government made his passport confiscated in 2015. "So, I'm still very hesitant to … make the decision."
In particular, he identifies the Trump Wall as a cause of uncertainty.
Ai Weiwei calls Trump's border wall a "ridiculous gesture"
The artist spent time at the US-Mexico border in 2016 during the production of "Human Flow", a documentary analyzing the impact of human migration on more than 20 different countries. He said the situation had worsened since then, but he called the proposed wall "ridiculous".
"This will not solve any problem, and all the reasons (data) to build this wall at the border (are not) true," he said. "It's obviously just an excuse for some kind of political reason."
"Reuse" human rights
The comments reflect the broadening of Ai's artistic and political program since his departure from China three years ago. Having earned his dissident label after exploring repression, intimidation and state surveillance in his home country, the artist has since turned to global injustices.
In a broad interview – where he also discussed the plight of the Uyghur population in China and displaced Rohingya from Myanmar – Ai addressed the many crises that have hit the world during what he called a "dramatic period" .
An artistic installation of the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, consisting of life jackets worn by refugees attached to the columns of the concert hall of Gendarmenmarkt in Berlin. Credit: Clemens Bilan / Getty Images Europe / Getty Images
"We have a major crisis with refugees and we have a lot of uncertainties in European and American politics," he said, adding, "I think human rights need to be reaffirmed. and must always be protected by each generation.
"If the rights of someone are violated, whether it is a minority or a religion, we must think that it is our (violated) rights that are violated, "he said. "It is only by doing so that we can (together) live as humans and that humanity can only protect our fundamental rights. always divided by politicians or special interests. "
Recent works from Ai have seen it respond to pressing social issues, including refugees and global migration. In 2017, he temporarily installed fences and cages around New York City, as part of a provocative public art project titled "Good Fences Make Good Neighbors".
Installation view of the & # 39; travel law & # 39; from the artist Ai Weiwei in Sydney, Australia. Credit: Mark Kolbe / Getty Images AsiaPac / Getty Images
The same year, he created "Law of Journey", an inflatable boat of more than 200 meters long, filled with anonymous human forms, which has since traveled to museums around the world.
His latest book continues his work on people without voting rights and voiceless: a flag designed to mark the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Designed to fly around the UK for seven days in June, the blue flag is characterized by a white imprint in the center.
The design was inspired by his visit to a refugee camp in Bangladesh, where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya from Myanmar have been living in desperate conditions since they fled the violent persecution.
"In the camp, we saw so many children, women and the elderly: they did not have shoes," he said.
"I see the same conditions in Africa (and) in different types of camps, in the world, so I've made (the flag using) their footprints."
Eyes on his homeland
"Ai Weiwei explains his initial decision to settle in America last October."
Despite the increasingly global reach of his art, Ai continues to make his voice heard against human rights violations in his country. He continues to strongly criticize a regime responsible for his detention, harassment and ultimate exile.
"It's (a) horrific situation in the 21st century: you put people in this kind of place to adventure and force them to study a kind of ideology, which is actually defended by the Party communist, "he said.
This is an issue that is important to the artist – and not just because of his commitment to human rights. In fact, Ai spent most of his childhood in Xinjiang after his father's denunciation and the expulsion of his family to a remote part of the northwest province in the early 1960s.
A scene of the disposition event at the 55th Venice Biennale of Art relates to the arrest of Ai Weiwei in April 2011 by the Chinese government and to the 81 day period that She then went into captivity. Credit: GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP / AFP / Getty Images
"So the same idea – rehabilitating people, brainwashing them and forcing them into (in) labor camps – is to maintain some kind of control," he added. "It will not work, and it has been proven that it will not work."
The artist wishes to point out that alleged human rights violations in the region have been around for a long time. While mass detention camps have pushed Xinjiang into the limelight on the international scene, its people are undergoing decades of stringent controls, stringent controls and, in the eyes of many Uighurs, discriminatory government policies.
"Since 1949, they (the Chinese government) do not do this only to minorities, like the Uyghurs or Tibetans, they do it for the Han as well," said Ai, referring to the country's majority ethnic group.
"My family is not Uyghur, but we were sent to Xinjiang, my father worked hard and we spent about 20 years there.It is one of the tactics to maintain the so-called" stability "of this kind of state."