Weiwei to go

Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei is currently based in Lesvos, Greece, from where he has been sending out messages through his work, stance and experience with the thousands of refugees who pass through the island on a daily basis.

Last week Ai closed down his exhibition in Copenhagen to protest a new law passed that enables Danish authorities to seize valuables from asylum seekers.

This week he took another stance by posing and recreating the image of drowned Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi, whose photograph provoked a lively reaction about the refugee crisis at the time.

Ai’s black-and-white photo depicts the artist lying on pebbles on a Lesbos beach, with his palms looking upwards and face subtly placed on the shore – exactly in the same position as Kurdi.

It comes amid reports that empathy towards the refugees and their plight is dying out.

Reportedly, “images from the latest tragedy, including the bodies of children, failed to generate the same level of shock”.

Ai’s recreated image instigated heated comments on social media, with many questioning whether he had gone too far.

Admittedly, ‘pretending’ to be a refugee is somewhat daunting, and in a way can never represent the reality these thousands of people are facing.

Yet approaching the matter through the arts is notably a new trend. Greek Cypriot artist Meletios Meletiou is currently on the island of Lesvos preparing work, while a group of students from a Limassol high school have been shortlisted for the 2016 Saatchi Gallery/Deutsche Bank Art Prize with a work of art entitled ‘Immigrants’.

Perhaps this is an aesthetically better way to approach the matter, and one that creates more substantial dialogue that potentially provoke actions rather than merely bombarding us with the most atrocious images that awe you one minute and disappear from your screen the next. Actions always speak louder than words.

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About Melissa Hekkers

I am freelance journalist and author, who has frequently been featured in mainstream news outlets and other publications in Cyprus. Recently, I've been focusing on developing my writing, promoting my own books and teaching creative writing to children and adults. My most recent publication (2020) - Amir's Blue Elephant- pushes the boundaries of creative non-fiction, and recreates the moments that marked me the most, whilst volunteering in refugee camps in Lesvos, Greece, and during her ongoing involvement with the refugee community in Cyprus. In 2018 I published My Capre Greco Mandala which is the third in a series, an interactive colouring book about the biodiversity of the Cape Greco peninsula in Cyprus. My Akamas Mandala, the second in the series, is a colouring book inspired by the variety of endemic plants found on the Akamas Peninsula. In 2016, I published My Nicosia Mandala, the first of the above series, an innovative, interactive colouring book about the historic fortifications of the old town of Nicosia. I also focuses on silenced communities in Cyprus: I writes about migrants and refugees, both as a reporter and a features writer; I profile them and teach them creative writing skills. In 2007, soon after graduating with a Communications degree, I published my first children’s book in both English and Greek entitled Crocodile, which won the Cyprus State Illustration Award. In 2012, I launched my second children’s book Flying across Red Skies (in English and Greek), using an experimental approach to literature, for which I was nominated for the Cyprus State Literary award. My third, similarly well-received children’s book was Pupa (Greek and English), published in 2014. In between the last two books, I published my first free-verse poetry book entitled Come-forth. In 2019 she was contributing author to the anthology Nicosia Beyond Barriers: Voices from a Divided City, published by Saqi Books, London