Protesting against the controversial changes in the Danish asylum seeker laws passed by the Danish parliament yesterday, 26 January, prominent Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei has announced that he will take down his twelve-metre installation Yu Yi from the exhibition A New Dynasty – Created in China at ARoS in Aarhus, and that he will also shut down the exhibition Ruptures at gallery Farschou Foundation in Copenhagen.
– I am very shocked about yesterday’s news that the Danish government has decided to seize refugees’ private property, says Ai Weiwei in a statement to ARoS, explaining his decision.
The changes to the Danish legislation on asylum seekers involves stricter clauses on a number of issues – for example, three years must now elapse before asylum seekers can apply for family reunification – but the one aspect that has garnered particular attention, attracting headlines and fierce responses in Denmark and internationally, is the so-called “jewellery bill” that gives police the right to body search asylum seekers and seize money and valuables to pay for the expense of that individual’s accommodation in Denmark.
In a statement issued on its website, the Faurschou Foundation proclaims that gallery owner Jens Faurschou backs the artist’s decision to close down the exhibition Ruptures in protest, and that Faurschou “regrets that the Danish parliament chooses to be in the forefront of symbolic and inhuman politics … instead of being in the forefront of a respectful European solution to solve the acute humanitarian crisis.”
By contrast, the director of ARoS, Erlend Høyersten, takes a critical view of Ai Weiwei’s choice of action even as he also expresses his respect for the artist’s commitment.
– I am somewhat taken aback. As a museum of art we strive to engender greater understanding for all kinds of human interrelations and to invite artistic reflection. This means that we share the same starting point as Ai Weiwei. It should also be noted that we are a private foundation; public-sector subsidies account for only 18% of our annual budget. This makes it so surprising that Ai Weiwei equates us with the state of Denmark. Surely, he is only too aware that the ruling powers and the people can be poles apart,” says Erlend Høyersten to Bergens Tidende.
Ai Weiwei’s response follows in the wake of his ongoing involvement in the refugee crisis and the conditions faced by refugees and asylum seekers in the Middle East and Europe. He has recently spent time on the Greek island of Lesbos, documenting the living conditions in a refugee camp and accompanying the volunteers who help receive new arrivals as their boats reach the shore. He has also spoken in favour of raising a monument dedicated to migrants and refugees.
– As an artist, I have to relate to humanity’s struggles … I never separate these situations from my art, said Ai Weiwei earlier this year according to The Guardian, which also quotes him as saying:
– The border is not in Lesbos, it really [is] in our minds and in our hearts.