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Ai Weiwei portrait

Interview: Ai Weiwei on his new solo exhibition in Hong Kong

“This planet has created so many brutal discriminations and violations of basic human rights. No one society or country has the privilege to say they are removed from this”

Written by
Olivia Lai

After debuting in Hong Kong for the first time back in 2015, China’s renowned dissident artist Ai Weiwei is back with another powerful solo exhibition. This time, he’s shining a light on current and past refugee crises from around the world. Titled Refutation, Ai’s new show is Tang Contemporary Art’s inaugural exhibition at H Queen’s and is open until April 30. Featuring a giant black sculpture carrying a number humanoid figures and wallpaper inspired by ancient Greece pottery art that represents the reality of Syrian refugees fleeing their war-torn country, the exhibition is a powerful and timely reminder of art’s ability to raise serious socio-political issues. We speak to Ai about his experiences, new works and the state of Hong Kong political society.

How did the topic of the current refugees’ crisis captivate you into wanting to make it the subject of your recent works?
In my work created over the past two years, there’ve been many related to the global refugee condition. There are 65 million people who have been forced from their homes and this number grows every second. My preparation for these recent works began the moment I was born – my father was exiled and I grew up far away from anywhere you could call ‘home’.

There are refugee crises happening in numerous countries. Is there any particular country you took particular influence from?
No, there’s no particular country. I’d say there’s a particular planet, which we call Earth. This planet has created so many brutal discriminations and violations of basic human rights. It’s a global situation. No one society or country has the privilege to say they are removed from this.

Your use of materials widely varies. How did you come to pick materials like Lego and wallpaper in your work?
I’m always interested in materials that aren’t generally being applied by the art world. I think the old art language is rubbish. It exists merely because of bad habits. After the Industrial Revolution and the Internet Age, any material can have as much equal integrity as any other if you can create a language with the vocabulary of art.

Looking back, how was the response to your first solo exhibition in Hong Kong in 2015 and how does it feel to host a show here second time around?
I love Hong Kong. I love this city, which has a people with strength in their heart and who demand freedom and independence. These are the most important qualities for any society. I always feel comfortable when I have an opportunity to show my work there.

Speaking of which, it’s a very interesting time for Hong Kong in terms of art and politics. Have you been following recent political stories in Hong Kong? Any thoughts?
I have followed every sense of Hong Kong’s political struggle. The sense of being as a Hong
Kong resident in modern times is especially interesting. Hong Kong is still a city searching for and defending its values in an ever-accelerating political environment.

You’re also participating at the Sydney Biennale and presenting a 60m inflatable boat sculpture. Any thoughts of presenting something that large in Hong Kong in the future?
I love to do works which have no limits, where no measurements restrict the work. I never think of the scale of the work in relation to human figures as a limit either.

As apathy, especially political, continues to be a salient issue in Hong Kong, what do you hope viewers can take away from Refutation?
Art raises questions. By raising questions, we challenge our sense of awareness and judgment and initiate involvement and action. Hopefully, the work I am showing can also function that way.

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