Ai Weiwei Quits Denmark Over Controversial Refugees Law

The artist continues his legacy of activism through art by closing down his exhibit there three months early.
Painter and sculptor Ai Weiwei. (Photo: Foc Kan/WireImage via Getty Images)
Jan 27, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

Artist and activist Ai Weiwei has long used his art to make a political statement, from Lego portraits of human rights activists to sculptures that highlight government corruption in China. Now the artist, who is working on a memorial on the Greek island of Lesbos—a major point of entry for migrants attempting to enter the European Union—is using his art to challenge a controversial new regulation for asylum seekers in Denmark.

“Ai Weiwei has decided to close his exhibition, Ruptures, at Faurschou Foundation Copenhagen, Denmark. This decision follows the Danish parliament’s approval of the law proposal that allows seizing valuables and delaying family reunions for asylum seekers,” the artist wrote in an Instagram post on Wednesday.

The law, which was passed on Tuesday, delays family reunification by three years and allows officials to confiscate valuables worth more than 10,000 kroner, or about $1,452, from migrants. Officials say that this money will be used to fund social programs that support refugees. Human rights activists have criticized this move, comparing it to the Nazi policy of taking jewelry from Jews during World War II. An 18-page report released earlier in January by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees called the policy “an affront to dignity.”

Foundation owner Jens Faurschou supports Ai’s decision and is optimistic that the artist's protest will spark change.

“He did that in China. People would say he has no influence, but when he focused on the scandal of the earthquake in 2008, today China is doing something about corruption,” Faurschou told The Guardian. “He has a voice and he uses it. I really admire him for that.”

Ai was one of several activists to put pressure on the Chinese government to release the death toll of students killed in the Sichuan earthquake, and he is often credited with convincing the government to release an official figure in 2009.

The Ruptures exhibit, which was set to run until mid-April, included one such piece, “Straight,” an installation made from steel from a collapsed school found in the ruins of the Sichuan earthquake.

Whether Ai will be able to sway political policies in Denmark remains to be seen, but with his large platform as an artist, Faurschou thinks he’s helping start a conversation.

“From Ai Weiwei’s side, the important thing is to get a debate and to use his voice,” Faurschou told The Guardian. “He is becoming a European; he is taking part in what goes on here.” In January, Ai announced plans to build a memorial to refugees on Lesbos.