[Many thanks to Caroline “Beelady” Ferrandino for bringing this item to our attention.] Internationally acclaimed Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, known for his work motivated by social justice issues, recently traveled to Puerto Rico to witness the impact of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria, including on the people left behind. See full article and video at NBC News.
“Many people realize artists can be a positive force for seeking the truth, for making social change, and for making political change,” Ai told NBC News in an exclusive interview during a research trip to Puerto Rico at the end of December. For Ai, the mass migration of desperate people from their homes has long been among the humanitarian and political themes that have defined his sculpture, installations, photography, film projects. [. . .]
The artist was drawn to Puerto Rico because more than 410,000 people have left the island, having given up on waiting for habitable homes, consistent restoration of power, clean water and passable roads. Most have resettled in states like Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Texas and regions around New England, creating one of the largest mass migrations ever into the mainland U.S. The mass migration has been so significant that it is poised to reshape regional and national politics.
Ai said that his goal is “to study the refugee condition, study the history, study the geopolitics and what is the cost for people to leave their home and why they have to leave their home.”
People fleeing from many kinds of crisis were featured inthe artist’s 2017 documentary “Human Flow.” In making that film, Ai and his team “went through 40 different refugee camps. We interviewed over 600 people,” he said. [. . .]
Ai’s journey to Puerto Rico began with an invitation from an old friend, the Brooklyn-based photojournalist and artist Justin Brice Guariglia, whose chief artistic interest is climate change. Guariglia’s friends Jennifer Bolstad and her husband Walter Meyer hosted them. The couple knows the island well and, through a nonprofit they helped co-found, were spending the week of New Year’s working with a band of volunteers from Puerto Rico and the mainland to bring solar power and sustainable redevelopment to the island.
Technically, refugees have been defined by international law since the end of World War II as people fleeing violence, persecution or war. And with that definition come certain protections and benefits. But Ai is among those calling for a revised definition that takes into account those who migrate because of disasters increasingly exacerbated by climate change, such as floods from rising coastal tides, famine caused by draught or, in this case, hurricanes.
“The whole landscaped has changed,” Ai said. “Those definitions certainly need to be changed. It takes global leadership to sit down and come up with a new understanding.” [. . .]