‘Tragedy is forgetting humanity’: Chinese artist honors refugees by working from crisis-hit island

© Ruptly
Chinese contemporary artist Ai Weiwei has revealed plans to set up a studio on the Greek island of Lesbos, where authorities claim to have run out of burial space for refugees’ bodies.

“For me it is quite shocking, to see the conditions … half a million people came, and over 4,000 people lost their lives. Babies, women, pregnant women, and a lot of adults sacrificed everything they have to come to a new land … This is a humanitarian crisis that never happened in current history. After WWII, this is the most tragic situation,” Ai Weiwei told RT’s Ruptly video agency.

The artist explained that the reason to set up his project on the island was to get close to the refugee crisis and experience it first-hand.

“As an artist I want to be more involved, because this is a situation I cannot just turn my face away [from] … I said I have to set up a studio here to push myself into the situation, it is like to jump into the water or on a boat. Otherwise I become too casual and I do not like that,” Ai said.

According to Ai, the worst thing that can happen to people is “losing their humanity.”

“The tragedy is not really how poor we are or how sad the war made us. The real tragedy is if we forget who we are, if humans lose their sense about humanity and human rights.”

Some of the ideas Ai is considering include shooting a documentary film in February about his activities on the island as well as creating a refugee memorial.

This past fall, a surge in the number of refugees drowning after their boats capsized filled Lesbos’s burial grounds to capacity. The island’s morgues, cemeteries and emergency services have been overwhelmed with the record number of drowning refugees.

Lesbos, with a population of 86,000, lies in the Aegean Sea near Turkey’s coast. It has served as one of the main destinations for refugees and other migrants trying to escape violence and poverty in Syria and other conflict zones in the Middle East and Africa.