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China’s Ai Weiwei brings white grand piano to muddy Greek refugee camp

Nour Alkhzam, 24, performed on Saturday in the pouring rain under a plastic sheet held up by Ai and others, where she played for 20 minutes in a field at the Idomeni border camp.

Syrian pianist Nour Alkhzam, center left, plays the piano as Chinese dissident artist Ai WeiWei, center right, holds a plastic sheet, along with other people, during a heavy rain at the northern Greek border station of Idomeni on March 12, 2016. Vadim Ghirda/AP Photo
Syrian pianist Nour Alkhzam, center left, plays the piano as Chinese dissident artist Ai WeiWei, center right, holds a plastic sheet, along with other people, during a heavy rain at the northern Greek border station of Idomeni on March 12, 2016. Vadim Ghirda/AP Photo

Idomeni, Greece // Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei set up a white grand piano in a muddy, rain-drenched refugee camp on the Greek-Macedonian border to allow a young Syrian woman to tinkle the ivories for the first time in years.

Nour Alkhzam, 24, performed on Saturday in the pouring rain under a plastic sheet held up by Ai and others, where she played for 20 minutes in a field at the Idomeni border camp.

Ms Alkhzam is among the 12,000 migrants and refugees stuck in grim conditions at the camp. She is hoping to reach her husband in Germany.

“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 said.

The stunt was the latest in a series of projects by Ai to highlight the conditions of people caught up in Europe’s worst migrant crisis since the Second World War.

“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 in recent weeks, leaving the Greek government struggling 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.

* Agence Franec-Presse