Chinese artist Ai Weiwei says Australians shouldn't forget the plight of the refugees just because they have an idyllic lifestyle.
Weiwei's words carried weight as he launched his exhibition, inspired by the global refugee crisis, at this year's Biennale on Cockatoo Island in Sydney on Monday.
The activist has spent the last few years working on art that draws attention to the global refugee crisis, including a 60-metre long lifeboat featuring more than 300 refugee figures, called Law of the Journey, that is displayed on the island, and his powerful film Human Flow which he also opens in Sydney this week.
"You are living in a very peaceful world, almost like fairytale, in Australia, but still we cannot disassociate our connections to other human beings, the suffering and the tragic life of our global human community," Weiwei said.
Weiwei, himself a refugee from his home of China, has spoken out against the Chinese government and was imprisoned in 2011 without charge for 81 days.
"I'm still in this exiled state from my country, from China," he said.
Weiwei has been exhibiting in Australia from the beginning of his career 12 years ago and this will be his fifth time showing his work here.
"This land has a very open and a very progressive advanced view on art, especially on what's happening in Asia, and a focus on the very special issue and meaning about art in globalisation which is quite advanced. So I'm very happy to be here again," he said.
Law of the Journey was originally designed for display in the National Museum in Prague, but there was a strange serendipity in bringing it to Cockatoo Island, a place where some of Australia's first immigrant convicts lived.
"This piece really is made for here … with the history of early immigrants and also still current struggles with Australia's record towards refugees, you know political struggles," Weiwei said.
The artist's two-tonne Crystal Ball has also been brought over as part of the exhibition and is being shown at Artspace in Woolloomooloo.
"It's probably the largest crystal ball ever made," he said.
"It functions as a classic crystal ball, asking for the future, but is also a metaphor for us to look through, reflect on our surroundings and try and figure out what is happening around us. "
*The 21st Biennale of Sydney takes place across seven locations around the city from March 16 – June 11. Ai Wweiwei will present a screening of Human Flow at the Sydney Opera House on Thursday.
Australian Associated Press