Skip main navigation

Addressing global issues through art

This article looks at how the mobilisation of the Chinese Ai Weiwei on the issue of refugees.

As we explained last week, international cultural relations can happen at the individual scale, without involving any form of public strategy. Let us look at how individuals can develop cultural projects across borders and address global issues.

While art is not merely an instrument for civic mobilization, some of the most famous contemporary artists, like JR or Banksy, have been taking stances through their art on conflicts or injustices. This is the case of Ai Weiwei, who is one of China’s most famous and influential contemporary artists. In the 2000s, he investigated several corruption scandals in China, such as the one revolving around the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, which got him under the suspicion of the Chinese government. He was arrested in 2011 and left China in 2015 to settle in Berlin. Recently, he set up numerous art projects dealing with Europe’s refugee crisis.

The following video gives an overview of some of the projects he conducted on this subject:

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

Upon releasing a documentary entitled “Human Flow”, which describes the refugee situation around the world, he wrote an article published in the Guardian, in which he explains what has led him to this subject:

“In 1958, my family was forced from our home in Beijing and banished to the most remote area of the country – we had no idea that this was the beginning of a very dark, long journey that would last for two decades. (…) I share this personal background because it sheds light on my emotional connection to the current global refugee condition, which I documented in the film Human Flow. My experience clarifies why I identify so deeply with all these unfortunate people who are pushed into extreme conditions by outside forces they are powerless to resist.”

‘The refugee crisis isn’t about refugees. It’s about us’, Ai Weiwei (the Guardian, 2 Feb. 2018)

What do you think?

Political art is not a new phenomenon, in the 1930s, Picasso drew attention on the atrocities of the Spanish civil war through his painting on the Massacre of Guernica. Do you think there is something radically new today in the way artists can express themselves across borders?

© European University Institute
This article is from the free online

Cultural Diplomacy

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now