Hong Kong as A Unique Place of Refuge Welcoming Chinese Dissident Artist

Ai Weiwei’s work: Law of Journey. Photo by Evelyn Ye.

A giant black rubber boat packed with faceless refugee figures is berthed at the central of Hong Kong. This time, there is no fear of forced repatriation threatening the refugees but more people’s curiosity, sympathy and reflection.

Ai Weiwei, China’s renowned dissident artist, sent this boat sculpture over as the main feature of REFUTATION, his second solo exhibition at Hong Kong, with an aim to represent the reality of Syrian refugees fleeing their war-torn country.

“I am like a high-end refugee,” Ai Weiwei said to The Art Newspaper, explaining why it is impossible for him to come to see his own exhibition at Hong Kong. As an outspoken critic of the Chinese government, Ai has been living in exile abroad since 2015 after going through detainment and passport confiscation in China. He commissioned Tang Contemporary Art based in Hong Kong to set up the exhibition and this one-month show from March 26th to April 30th took near half a year to get all the preparation done.

Ai Weiwei’s Self-portrait exhibit in REFUTATION. Photo by Evelyn Ye.

“It’s all paying off,” said Alina Krotenko, staff of Tang Contemporary Art. On the opening day of REFUTATION, it welcomed over 3000 visitors from Hong Kong and abroad, as well as mass media attention in covering the show and knowing more about Ai.

Hong Kong is the first city in Asia to hold Ai Weiwei’s exhibition yet the bond between Hong Kong and Ai is beyond a host and an artist. Dating back to 2011, when Ai was detained by Chinese police for 81 days without any notification, Hong Kong society voiced out to appeal for Ai’s release.

“For such a little island, when I was detained, it had the strongest voice,” Ai said, “It was not only the art community but also ordinary people, which is very impressive.”

A non-selling exhibition called “Love the Future” was launched at that time in the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition center by 50 Hong Kong artists together, speaking out against Ai’s detention in the form of art.

It is Ai’s contribution in the art field and in the social sector that attracts Hong Kong’s attachment of significance on him.

“I’ve heard of Ai Weiwei, a top contemporary artist worldwide and a bold political dissident of China,” said Paul Buck, senior art journalist of South China Morning Post, “Hong Kong is graced to have the exhibition here.”

Paul Buck at REFUTATION. Photo by Evelyn Ye.

Art HK director Magnus Renfrew also calls Ai “an artist who we greatly admire” in an interview with CNN. And yet Renfrew delivers even more praise for city of Hong Kong “where freedom of expression is greatly valued, and freedom of expression is protected under the Bill of Rights of Hong Kong and under the Basic Law of Hong Kong. So it is a very good place for the full variety of voices to be heard.”

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