Susan B Glasser writes: Ai Weiwei is making a strong case for himself as America’s leading dissident of the Trump era.
Never mind that he’s Chinese, or that he lives in Berlin in de facto exile these days.
The legendary artist, who has long embraced political themes in his work, has gone full-out activist in a new feature-length documentary film about the global refugee crisis, called Human Flow and released in theaters across the U.S. Friday, and in a new, New York City-wide public art exhibit of 300 works in dozens of locations called “Good Walls Make Good Neighbors.”
Both are explicit rebuttals of the nationalistic, America-First-fueled policies espoused by Donald Trump, from his proposed Mexican border wall to his curbs on immigration that include admitting the smallest number of refugees to the U.S. in decades.
In a new interview for The Global Politico during a rare visit to Trump’s Washington, Ai referred to Trump’s win as “the moment I think history stopped,” a “backward” evolution that undermines liberal ideas like freedom of speech and human dignity everywhere.
Authoritarian leaders in China and elsewhere are the beneficiaries of Trump and the crisis of American democracy, said Ai, who spent four years under house arrest and forbidden to leave China before being allowed to leave the country two years ago.
“China is laughing about this situation,” he said. “China, Russia, they all laugh about it.”
When we met in Georgetown recently, I found Ai most compelling when talking about why he made the film, a “strangely beautiful” documentary, as the New York Times put it, shot in 23 countries from Asia to Africa to the Middle East and Europe over the course of a year.
It’s a call to action for Americans, he told me, and a commentary on what he sees as the breakdown of our society into a “timid” and “cowardly” and “selfish” place, one whose new role in the world is very much at odds with its self-identity as this liberal, generous nation.
“We have to save our own soul and our own mind and our own society,” he said. [Continue reading…]