Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei and British-Indian sculptor Anish Kapoor led a protest march through central London on Thursday to press for “human rather than political” responses to the refugee crisis.
The two artists each carried a tatty, grey blanket as a symbol of the needs of the world’s refugees, whose number reached a record 60 million this year, according to the United Nations refugee agency.
Ai, who called last week for the British government to accept greater numbers of refugees streaming across European borders, said on Thursday at the start of the march that the problem “concerns everybody.”
Kapoor also urged European governments to do more. “On the whole the responses have been political and not human, so we ask for human responses,” he told Sky TV.
The artists have joined forces after difficult years for both.
Ai was initially denied a six-month visa to enter Britain in July after immigration officials claimed he had not declared a criminal conviction in his country.
However, he has never been convicted of a crime in China despite having been detained for 81 days in 2011. He maintains the case was trumped up in retaliation for his criticism of the government.
Kapoor’s “Dirty Corner” sculpture at the Palace of Versailles near Paris has been vandalized twice in three months with anti-semitic slurs. Kapoor is Jewish.
The pair started their 7-mile (11 km) walk on Thursday morning outside the Royal Academy of Arts, where an Ai Weiwei retrospective is to open Saturday, the first he has been able to open in person since Chinese authorities returned his passport in July, having confiscated it four years earlier.
The two artists say they welcome participation from members of the public, and both plan to repeat the walk in cities across the world over the next few months.
“One might say in a way artists are refugees: they’re always on the edge, they always sit with a mind to what’s slightly outside,” Kapoor said.