Chinese artist leads London march in support of refugees

Artist Ai Wei Wei waves under Big Ben as he walks with Anish Kapoor through central London, September 17, 2015. © Peter Nicholls
Chinese dissident artist Ai Wei Wei and British-Indian sculptor Anish Kapoor led an eight-mile walk through central London on Thursday to show solidary with asylum seekers around the world.

The two artists said they were taking part in a “walk of compassion” as they strode down London’s Piccadilly from the Royal Academy of Arts.

Ai and Kapoor carried a tatty, grey blanket as a symbol of the 60 million displaced people across the world.

Ai, who has a show at the Royal Academy opening to the public on Saturday, said the refugee crisis has a “long history.

We are artists, we are part of the whole situation,” he said.

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

He told Sky TV: “On the whole the responses have been political and not human, so we ask for human responses.”

Ai called on the British government to accept greater numbers of refugees and migrants last week, shortly after arriving in the UK on a six-month visa.

He was initially denied a visa after British immigration officials claimed he had not declared his Chinese criminal conviction.

However Ai, who is a vocal critic of the Chinese government, has never been convicted of a crime in China despite having spent 81 days in detention in 2011.

Authorities in Beijing returned Ai’s passport in July. They had confiscated it in 2011.

Kapoor said artists are part of the response to the refugee and migrant crisis.

We are demanding creativity of others, recognizing that those who leave their country and go on a journey across the water full of danger or who walk hundreds of miles across land are also making a creative act.

It is important that artists are not outside the equation, we don’t stand on the sidelines. Artists are part of the story of a response, we cannot stand aside and let others make the response.

We are trying to do positive action: by opening a certain spirit, a certain poetic space, we can at least hope to change how we think about the problem,” he added.

The walk ended at Kapoor’s Orbit – the UK’s largest piece of public art – in the Olympic park at Stratford.