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Film

One year with Ai Weiwei: DW premieres documentary

Who is Ai Weiwei? Following his arrest and surveillance in China, the artist now lives in Berlin where he is taking on European refugee policy. The DW documentary "Ai Weiwei Drifting" accompanied him for one year.

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A glimpse inside DW's Ai Weiwei documentary

A lonely rubber boat is floating in the Aegean Sea somewhere between Turkey and Greece. Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is cowering in the boat. He cannot swim. Is this supposed to be performance art?

"We're all refugees," he claims. Ai Weiwei, who lives in Berlin, criticizes European refugee policy and turns his criticism into art and protest. In his current works, he focuses on the fate of refugees and travels to Greece,Turkey and Gaza. He turns boats, life vests and clothes left behind at European beaches into museum pieces and public monuments.

For one year, DW journalists Eva Mehl and Bettina Kolb accompanied the Chinese artist for the documentary "Drifting Ai Weiwei." Ai Weiwei is slated to attend the film's premiere in Berlin on June 13.

The DW authors not only covered the artist's unconventional refugee projects in Greece and Gaza, but also attended lectures he gave as a guest professor at Berlin's University of the Arts and an exhibition opening in New York.

Read more: Ai Weiwei's biggest installation to date is a giant refugee boat

A thorny critic

But who is really this provocative artist whose performances have sparked controversy - among them the destruction of an urn of the Ha Dynasty and the reproduction of a picture of a dead refugee boy at the Turkish coast?

"Drifting Ai Weiwei" provides insight into his work, as well as his private daily life with his mother in Beijing and with his son and girlfriend in Berlin during moments that have never been shown on film before. 

Ai Weiwei talking to young refugees in Idomeni, Greece (DW/Eva Mehl)

Ai Weiwei talking to young refugees in Idomeni, Greece

Together with the documentary, an online special will present the life of this exceptional artist whose childhood was dominated by flight and exile. "My life is some kind of exile, and I have attained something like refugee status. In Berlin, I am able to live in freedom with my child and my girlfriend," he says. However he added that he doesn't speak German, cannot interact with people, and cannot freely decide whether he wants to return to his home country, where it is unsafe for him.  

Ai Weiwei's father, the famous poet Ai Qing, was persecuted during Mao's cultural revolution so that he grew up in exile.

Now, Ai Weiwei has become one of the world's most famous contemporary artists. "I'm always documenting something. I want to record many things for the next generation," he explains. Ai Weiwei's art knows no boundarie - yet somehow he remains mysterious.

"Ai Weiwei Drifting" is a 56-minute documentary film by Deutsche Welle, produced by Eva Mehl and Bettina Kolb. It will run on DW's television program starting on June 24, 2017.

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