Cover of the book, 'Humanity', by Ai Weiwei. Published by Princeton University Press. Graphic: Princeton University Press

By Robin Pogrebin
23 April 2018

(The New York Times) – The prominent Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei has long used his fame and social media as a megaphone for his activism. It was because of his blogging and Twitter activity criticizing the government that he was detained by the Chinese police for nearly three months and had his passport taken away in 2011. And his Instagram posts of the last few years have brought increasing international attention to the refugee crisis, as has his documentary Human Flow, released last fall.

But now Mr. Ai has returned to a more traditional form of expression: Humanity, a little blue book published this week by Princeton University Press that collects excerpts from Mr. Ai’s thoughts and aphorisms — expressed in previously published interviews and other public appearances.

“The tragedy is not only that people have lost their lives,” Mr. Ai says in the book’s excerpt from a 2016 BBC interview. “The tragedy is the people who, in the very rich nations, have lost their humanity.”

Larry Warsh, a longtime collector and champion of Mr. Ai’s work, who edited the book and wrote its introduction, said he thought it was important to gather the artist’s most powerful statements all in one place.

“It’s a real snapshot of something that most people have a hard time grasping,” Mr. Warsh said. “It’s about putting it together in a way we all can see the significance of these issues.”

Mr. Warsh described “Humanity” as a continuation of the 6-inch-tall 2012 book Weiwei-isms — which he also edited — with Mr. Ai’s ruminations on individual rights and freedom of expression.

Mr. Ai sat down to discuss his new book and some of the issues he will address there. Following are edited excerpts. […]

What initially got you interested in the refugee crisis?

One lady from Iraq came to see me. She said, “I want you to help me to select drawings made in an Iraqi [refugee] camp. With your reputation, the wind is behind you, so we want to draw some attention.” I looked through their drawings — kind of naïve drawings, memories about how their houses had been bombed. They were like children’s drawings. I got very attracted to it. I said, “I can do that only with one condition: if I can send some of my team to that camp. I just want to interview those people.” [more]

Ai Weiwei’s Little Blue Book on the Refugee Crisis

Humanity: Writings on human life and the refugee crisis by the most important political artist of our time

Ai Weiwei (b. 1957) is widely known as an artist across media: sculpture, installation, photography, performance, and architecture. He is also one of the world's most important artist-activists and a powerful documentary filmmaker. His work and art call attention to attacks on democracy and free speech, abuses of human rights, and human displacement--often on an epic, international scale.

This collection of quotations demonstrates the range of Ai Weiwei's thinking on humanity and mass migration, issues that have occupied him for decades. Selected from articles, interviews, and conversations, Ai Weiwei's words speak to the profound urgency of the global refugee crisis, the resilience and vulnerability of the human condition, and the role of art in providing a voice for the voiceless.

Select quotations from the book:

"This problem has such a long history, a human history. We are all refugees somehow, somewhere, and at some moment."

"Allowing borders to determine your thinking is incompatible with the modern era."

"Art is about aesthetics, about morals, about our beliefs in humanity. Without that there is simply no art."

"I don't care what all people think. My work belongs to the people who have no voice."

Ai Weiwei is one of the world's most influential and inspiring figures. His work has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Venice Biennale, the Guangzhou Triennial, Tate Modern, and the Smithsonian, among many other major international venues. Larry Warsh has been active in the art world for more than thirty years. He has collaborated with Ai Weiwei on several projects, including the public art installation Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads. He is the editor of Weiwei-isms and Jean-Michel Basquiat's Notebooks (both Princeton).




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