Ai Weiwei to focus on art, not politics, during Berlin teaching stint

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Dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei said on Monday that he plans to focus on art rather than politics during a pending three-year tenure as visiting professor in Berlin.

Speaking to journalists in the German capital, Ai said that China remained his home.

“I intend to travel back and forth, provided they [China] let me in and out again. I am not in control of that,” he said.

He noted that he had already travelled to Beijing from Berlin, returning a little more than a week ago.

Ai, famous among other things for his work on the Beijing National Stadium ahead of the 2008 Summer Olympics, was finally allowed to leave China in August after years of being banned from leaving the country. China decided to limit his travel immediately after he served a three-month prison sentence in 2011 for tax evasion.

He takes up his post as Einstein visiting professor at the Berlin University of the Arts at the end of the month.

The dissident, who has repeatedly criticized Beijing’s human rights record, said human rights would not necessarily be a focus of his work.

“I will be teaching art. Of course these questions are in me, but I do not intend to put my students under pressure with them. Everyone has the right to decide for themselves on their principles,” Ai said.

The position was offered to Ai in 2011 during his detention by the Chinese authorities.

He said on Monday that he had drawn encouragement from the invitation to Berlin, thanking the head of the university, Martin Rennert, and the chairman of the Einstein Foundation, Guenter Stock.

Ai has selected 16 students from around 100 applicants with knowledge of media, design and fashion, among other things. But he added there was another who could cook well and one more who could drive at night and had some experience as a getaway driver.

“As a whole, you should perhaps imagine it a bit like in the famous gangster film Ocean’s 11, in which a small group form to rob a bank,” he said in reference to the 1960 original and 2001 remake.

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