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Many an eyebrow was raised last week when the leader of the right-wing nationalist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party shared a selfie in which she poses with artist Ai Weiwei. Politician Alice Weidel originally posted the photograph on her Twitter account with the caption,” #AiWeiwei is in the capital!!!! I almost didn’t dare ask him for a selfie ;-).” In the image, the artist sidles up close on her right and grins for the camera.

Ai is known to oblige people’s requests for selfies with him, but this documented encounter raised a few questions. Namely, some wondered, did the Chinese dissident know who his companion was? Weidel is an openly lesbian, former investment banker who opposes same-sex marriage and once referred to immigrants in Germany as “illiterate people” who “don’t have any training.” Her party, founded in 2013, is known for its anti-Islam and anti-immigration positions. Ai, on the other hand, grew up a refugee in his own country; remains an exile in Berlin; and has spent the last three years making art to raise awareness about global refugee crisis — tasteless as his efforts might be at times.

Speaking with Frieze, the artist said he had not known Weidel was an AfD politician until she told him so. Weidel had approached him at a restaurant in Berlin, he said, and clarified that AfD was “the right-wing party,” after which he agreed to pose with her. In his statement, the artist also defended his decision.

“I don’t believe that differences in political views or values between people should act as a barrier in communication,” the artist said. “My efforts are in tearing down those boundaries. 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,” he added. “If you cannot tolerate free expression, your political views are even more terrifying.”

Free expression, it happens, is something that a number of AfD officials have struggled to tolerate. Last summer, Kassel city councilman Thomas Mater denounced an obelisk by Olu Oguibe, created for Documenta 14, as “degenerate art,” and threatened to organize protests should his city acquire the work. Inscribed with the phrase, “I was a stranger and you took me in,” in four languages, it is titled, “Das Fremdlinge und Flüchtlinge,” or “Monument for Strangers and Refugees.”

And since December, senior member of AfD Björn Höcke has had his tolerance for art tested, right outside his house. There, artists have erected a mini replica of Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial, which Höcke described as a “monument of shame,” and plan to keep it there for at least two years. The politician argued that the installation encroached upon his right to privacy; however, a district court ruled last month that the artists’s freedom of expression trumped his claim.

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Claire Voon

Claire Voon is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Singapore, she grew up near Washington, D.C. and is now based in Chicago. Her work has also appeared in New York Magazine, VICE,...

8 replies on “Ai Weiwei Defends His Selfie with Right-Wing German Nationalist Politician”

  1. It is not political it is their ideas about humans. Sorry mr. Weiwei maybe it has to do with fame of your name and art. You as an artist and exile from China must know that discrimating and racist ideas must not be accepted. Look what’s happening all over this sh**t world with us as Humanbeings!!!!

  2. Actually, Weidel is a HUGE fan of Weiwei’s “Human Flow”…. she loves the images of migrants suffering. Warms her heart….
    (Mystery why Weiwei didn’t shove a pie in this person’s face – she really is that reprehensible.)

  3. Yes, all well-mannered artists must always assert the right to recycle old tropes about maintaining the Chinese wall that divides the political from the personal.

  4. It’s none of my business with whom he chooses to take a photo. To busybodies all over the art world(and political world) grow up and look for something important upon which to vent your spleen.

  5. I hate that tiresome phrase “No one has the right to judge xyz” which is heard so often, especially in Germany. I would think that everyone has the “right to judge her personal life” and everyone “has the right to judge who I choose to take a photograph with”. To judge is to decide and declare what one likes or doesn’t like. Everyone has that right. Somehow the phrase implies that criticizing and complaining about an action is the same as punishing and harming the person judged, which is entirely not the case. In fact, the phrase actually is a call to limit freedom of expression.

    1. There are a number of individuals who had portraits done with Hitler and Stalin, with Fidel and Pinochet that came to regret it with their lives.

  6. Observe: “she worked at the Bank of China, living six years in China. Weidel speaks Mandarin.”

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