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Ai Weiwei


Illustration by ALEX FINE

“GOOD ART ALWAYS HAS A SENSE OF ACTIVISM,” SAYS CHINESE DISSIDENT Ai Weiwei. After being confined for 81 days in 2011 for protesting his country’s human rights abuses, his passport was seized for four years. When he got it back, he left China. Ai may be the world’s best-known contemporary artist, but he has been “homeless” since then, and that helped spark his latest activist works: the documentary Human Flow, on the global refugee crisis, and a group of monumental public structures called Good Fences Make Good Neighbors, in New York City. Fences addresses the rise of nationalism and the closing of borders—and hearts—to refugees and immigrants; Human Flow illustrates Ai’s fundamental belief that humans need to protect one another: “Anyone who is being hurt anywhere in this world, we are all being hurt. We’re all vulnerable.” In early October, the artist visited New York to promote Human Flow. It was just after outraged animal rights activists pressured the Guggenheim Museum to pull three pieces (including an installation with live lizards and insects) from its “Art and China After 1989: Theater of the World” show. Ai talked to Newsweek about that, and how history might treat a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

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