in News | 23 APR 18

Ai Weiwei Defends Selfie with Far-Right AfD Leader

The Chinese dissident artist has justified posing with politician Alice Weidel, who has branded immigrants ‘illiterate’

in News | 23 APR 18

Courtesy: Twitter; Fair Use

Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei has justified snapping a selfie with the far-right politician and parliamentary leader of the Alternativ für Deutschland (AfD) party, Alice Weidel, in a Berlin restaurant. Weidel originally posted the selfie on Twitter, commenting: ‘#AiWeiwei is in the capital!!!! I almost did not dare ask him for a selfie ;-)’. Weidel later told the German Press Agency DPA that she had long admired Ai’s art and ‘his fight against state repression’.

Users of the social media platform speculated as to whether the artist knew who he was posing with. In a statement sent to frieze, Ai said that Weidel approached him while he was sitting with family and friends. The artist said that Weidel told him that she was an AfD politician though he ‘didn’t recognize it immediately as I am not so familiar with the different German political parties’. Weidel clarified that ‘her party was the right-wing party’. The artist then agreed to take a selfie together, at Weidel’s request.

‘I don’t believe that differences in political views or values between people should act as a barrier in communication. My efforts are in tearing down those boundaries,’ Ai said, ‘Alice Weidel is a democratically elected politician and has the right to freely express her political views. Although her views are completely the opposite of mine, no one has the right to judge her personal life. At the same time, no one has the right to judge who I choose to take a photograph with. If you cannot tolerate free expression, your political views are even more terrifying.’

Ai Weiwei also said that Weidel’s request for a selfie with the artist ‘shows an openness to differences in political agendas. I appreciate her forwardness and decisiveness to post the selfie – these are qualities we are lacking today.’

Ai Weiwei’s installation at Berlin’s Konzerthaus, 2016. Courtesy: Flickr, Creative Commons

Weidel is regarded as belonging to the moderate wing of the AfD. She is openly lesbian, holds a doctorate in economics and used to work for Goldman Sachs. She has also labelled immigrants ‘illiterate’ who have created a ‘brain drain’ in the Middle East. In a 2017 interview, Weidel denied her party had a racism problem, adding: ‘But at the same time one must see that dangerous people have come into the country through the government's open-border policy.’

Along with his taste for selfies, Ai Weiwei has long explored the refugee crisis in his artworks. In 2016 he cloaked Berlin’s Konzerthaus in 14,000 fluorescent orange life jackets worn by refugees, after the artist’s journey to Lesbos. But his recreation of the image of the drowned Syrian toddler and refugee Alan Kurdi, also in 2016, was widely criticized as a stunt, capitalizing on the plight of migrants.

AfD politicians have publicly denounced memorials and contemporary artworks they deem insufficiently patriotic. In January 2017 the party’s Björn Höcke called the capital’s Holocaust memorial a ‘monument of shame’ (he was later reprimanded by AfD leaders). In August last year Kassel city councilman and AfD member Thomas Materner called Olu Oguibe’s Monument for Strangers and Refugees (2017), included as part of the documenta 14 exhibition, ‘ideologically polarizing, deformed art’.  The obelisk features a verse from Matthew 25:35, ‘I was a stranger and you took me in’, in German, English, Arabic and Turkish.