Chinese artist Ai Weiwei brings grand piano to refugee camp

Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei sets up white grand piano in muddy, rain-drenched refugee camp on Greek-Macedonian border allows young Syrian woman to play for first time in years

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei holds a rain cover to protect a Syrian refugee woman from the rain, as she performs on a piano brought by the artist, near a refugee camp on the Greek-Macedonian border close to the village of Idomeni, Greece March 12, 2

Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei set up a white grand piano in a muddy, rain-drenched refugee camp on the Greek-Macedonian border Saturday, allowing a young Syrian woman to tinkle the ivories for the first time in years.

Performing in the pouring rain under a plastic sheet held up by Ai and others, 24-year-old Nour Alkhzam, who is hoping to reach her husband in Germany, played for 20 minutes in a field at the Idomeni border camp, where 12,000 refugees are stuck in grim conditions.

"This is our attempt to create an opportunity for this lady," Weiwei said at the end of the impromptu performance.

"She has been victimised by these wars. She has not had the chance to touch a piano in three years. She and her husband have been separated for one-and-a-half years."

He added that watching her play was "very touching."

"It tells the world that art will overcome the war," he told reporters.

The stunt was the latest in a series of projects by Ai to shine a spotlight on the people caught up in Europe's worst refugee crisis since World War II.

"We want to reveal a new image of them, to relay possibility, art and imagination. This is the image that needs to be relayed to the world," he said.

Greek authorities estimate that 12,000 people are stuck at the camp at Idomeni, but thousands more are camped out in fields nearby, waiting in vain for the border to reopen so they can continue their journey north.

Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei speaks to the media as he holds a rain cover to protect a Syrian refugee woman (not seen) from the rain near the village of Idomeni, Greece March 12, 2016.

Macedonia and several other countries on the refugee trail have sealed their borders over recent weeks, leaving the Greek government to struggle with a huge bottleneck of people stuck on its territory and forced to camp in increasing squalor.

Ai, a thorn in the side of China's Communist authorities, has repeatedly spoken out in support of refugees and denounced European politicians' handling of the crisis.

Last month, he draped thousands of lifejackets discarded by refugees arriving in Greece around the columns of Berlin's Konzerthaus concert hall.

And in January, the artist closed down an exhibition of his work in Copenhagen in protest after lawmakers passed a controversial bill allowing authorities to seize valuables from asylum seekers.

China's most prominent contemporary artist, Ai helped design the Bird's Nest stadium for the Beijing Olympics and has been exhibited around the globe, but his works have often run afoul of China's authorities.

He was detained in 2011 for 81 days over his advocacy of democracy and human rights as well as other criticisms of the government in Beijing.