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19 October 2022

“Global problems must be tackled through global collaboration”: Ai Weiwei on his New Statesman cover

The artist explains the thinking behind his original work, and how art can help in the fight against climate change.

By Ai Weiwei

For our special issue on the climate crisis, guest edited by Greta Thunberg, the New Statesman commissioned Ai Weiwei to produce an original artwork responding to the issue’s themes.

In Chinese, we have a saying: “A broken mirror cannot be restored to what it was.” When an object is destroyed, you can’t put it back into its original form; it will never be the same. That is what I wanted to say with this image – the real issue is not, “How do we fix the planet?” but, “How do we prevent ourselves from destroying it in the first place?”

I have made environmental work before. In 2019 I exhibited a series of iron sculptures modelled on the roots of an endangered species of tree found in the Brazilian rainforest. I don’t think these pieces have had any impact in terms of slowing the climate crisis.

China’s climate policy plays a very important role, but our planet transcends national and ethnic boundaries. These are global problems that need to be tackled through global collaboration.

What is often described as a question of “environmental protection” is not really about that. The environment does not need protection; rather, the problem lies with us. We should focus on how we stop human beings in their savage exploitation of Earth.

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What can artists do? We can reflect upon the more fragile side of human beings, the side that has room for feelings and aesthetics. This side is the most vulnerable, and the most breakable.

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[See also: “It was important to be positive”: Jeremy Deller on his New Statesman cover]

This article appears in a special issue of the New Statesman guest edited by Greta Thunberg and featuring contributors including Margaret Atwood, Amitav Ghosh, Rebecca Solnit, and Björk. Read more from the issue here.

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This article appears in the 19 Oct 2022 issue of the New Statesman, State of Emergency