Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei is considered one of the most influential contemporary artists in the world today. Producing works with powerful social messages, he has also become a passionate advocate for the rights of refugees.

Earlier this year, Australia for UNHCR collaborated with Ai Weiwei to help advocate for refugees through national screenings of his new documentary, Human Flow.  

Filmed over the course of a year, the documentary follows a chain of refugee stories stretching across the globe, bearing witness to its subjects and their desperate search for safety, shelter and justice.

Speaking to Australia for UNHCR supporters during his visit, Ai Weiwei described how a trip to the Greek island of Lesvos – one of Europe’s main entry points for refugees – inspired the documentary. The footage he shot on his iPhone during that trip provided the opening images of Human Flow, which would go on to span 23 countries, 40 refugee camps, hundreds of interviews and more than 900 hours of footage. 

With the number of displaced people at a record high, Ai Weiwei said that there has never been a greater need for empathy in the world.

“Refugees are not being seen as people. They are being seen as a category,” he said.

Speaking at the Biennale of Sydney, which featured Ai Weiwei’s monumental installation – Law of the Journey – a 60-metre rubber lifeboat packed with oversized, faceless figures representing adults and children, he said, “There’s no refugee crisis, only a human crisis… In dealing with refugees we’ve lost our very basic values.

“In this time of uncertainty, we need more tolerance, compassion and trust for each other, since we are all one, otherwise humanity will face an even bigger crisis.”
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Australia for UNHCR supporters who attended the Sydney screening show that they stand #WithRefugees.

 © Australia for UNHCR

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