“The border is not in Lesbos, it really [is] in our minds and in our hearts.”
Those are the words of famed Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei, speaking from the Greek island last week.
Lesbos has been the main point of entry into Europe for hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing Syria, Iraq and other conflict-torn countries. Ai says he’s set up a studio on the island to create art that will “highlight the plight” of these migrants.
“A lot of people have lost their lives under the waves ... we need a memorial,” Ai told Agence France-Presse on Friday. “This is a very historical moment from any perspective. As an artist I want to be more involved, I want to [create] artworks in relation to the crisis and also create some kind of consciousness about the situation.”
Ai told The Associated Press that he expects to visit Lesbos “several times over the next year.” Six or more of his students will be working at the island’s studio as well.
Ai -- who earned worldwide fame for both his art and his clashes with the Chinese government -- has been sharing images from Lesbos on his Instagram account over the past week. These have included photographs of refugees, aid workers and the rubber dinghies that are used to make the perilous journey to Greece.
More than 1 million migrants and refugees illegally entered Europe by land and sea in 2015, according to the International Organization for Migration. That's four times the number in 2014, the group said.