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Ai Weiwei brings white grand piano to muddy refugee field

AFP , Sunday 13 Mar 2016
Syrian pianist Nour Alkhzam
Syrian pianist Nour Alkhzam, center, performs as Chinese dissident artist Ai WeiWei holds a plastic sheet to protect themselves from the rain at the northern Greek border station of Idomeni, Saturday, March 12, 2016. (Photo: AP)
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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 migrants and refugees are stuck in grim conditions.

"This is our attempt to create an opportunity for this lady," Ai 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 migrant 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.

Macedonia and several other countries on the migrant 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 migrants 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.

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