Ai Weiwei: ‘The mood in Germany is like the 1930s’

The artist has battled surveillance, underground exile and even irate Berlin taxi drivers. He thinks the world has forgotten what human rights mean, which is why he has designed a new flag

The wallpaper image on Ai Weiwei’s mobile phone is a black and white photograph showing the entrance to an underground home in Xinjiang. It was here where the Chinese activist artist and his family were exiled for five years when he was a boy. “We were put underground here as a punishment,” he says. “This is where I grew up. Now they put the Uighurs in these kind of camps.” He enlarges the picture showing a bunker-like structure jutting out of the ground in an arid, inhospitable landscape.

Ai’s father, Ai Qing, was a poet and political radical who, although no activist, was seen as a threat to society. “So I’ve always been involved with human rights issues, not initially out of choice but out of personal experience,” he says.

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Ai Weiwei: ‘The mood in Germany is like the 1930s’