Ai Weiwei on refugees, empathy and the ‘miracle’ of the internet – Entertainment

Though his art has been warmly welcomed in Canada before, provocative and influential Ai Weiwei — once named the world’s most powerful artist — has travelled to Toronto to accept an honour acknowledging his activism.

Ai is in Canada this week to receive the 2017 Adrienne Clarkson Prize for Global Citizenship, a prize founded by the former governor general to recognize an individual who “has encouraged thought and dialogue, approaches and strategies that strive to remove barriers, change attitudes, and reinforce the principles of tolerance and respect.”

The internationally acclaimed Chinese artist accepts the prize Wednesday night in Toronto at Koerner Hall — an event called his first-ever Canadian speaking appearance.

Soleil Levant, a work by Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei made from over 3,500 lifejackets discarded by migrants on the Greek island of Lesbos, is seen in Copenhagen in June. Ai’s latest works explore the ongoing migrant crisis. (James Brooks/Associated Press)

An earlier attempt to bring the politically outspoken Ai to Canada for the 2013 opening of his retrospective at the Art Gallery of Ontario was foiled by the Chinese government, which detained the outspoken artist for 81 days in 2011 and subsequently nixed any travel plans by holding onto his passport for four years afterward.

His evocative, accessible works — which have been shown in museums, galleries and art festivals around the world — tackled issues such as freedom of expression, human rights, political prisoners, questioning power structures and digital communications.

Law of the Journey, an Ai Weiwei installation displayed at the National Gallery in Prague in March, comprised a 70m-long inflatable boat with life-size figures of 258 refugees. (Petr David Josek/Associated Press)

Ai’s latest artworks have explored the plight of refugees, including his documentary Human Flow, a sprawling look at the global refugee crisis that was captured over the course of a year and in 23 countries.

After screening at the Venice and Toronto film festivals earlier this month, the Amazon Studios and Participant Media film is slated to open theatrically beginning this fall.

Ai talked to CBC News’ Wendy Mesley on Wednesday about his new film, his activism and his hopes for the future. (The interview was edited and condensed) 

Creative drive

“I always have to try to find a language to build up this kind of communication between the…

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