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My art was used to sell cars – but I’m fighting back

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In October 2017 I was astonished when Michael Thouber, the director of Copenhagen’s Kunsthal Charlottenborg, informed me that my artwork Soleil Levant had been used in an advertisement for the new Volkswagen Polo. Soleil Levant is an installation comprising 3,500 lifejackets worn by refugees undertaking perilous sea journeys to reach safety in Europe. Many refugees survived due to these lifejackets; some perished. Some lifejackets were fake, and those wearing them could have drowned.

I created Soleil Levant especially for World Refugee Day in 2017. It was exhibited on Kunsthal Charlottenborg’s external facade from 20 June to 1 October 2017. The installation was used as the backdrop for an orange VW Polo without my knowledge or permission by a company that imports Volkswagens into Denmark. These actions are clear violations of my intellectual property and moral rights, but more importantly they raise larger questions of corporate power and responsibility in our era of global capitalism.

The refugee situation is one of the most critical issues facing the world today. Germany is one of the European countries that took a decisive humanitarian stance on this issue. In 2015, when the Chinese authorities returned my passport, my right to travel was restored and I came to Berlin. Many refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and other countries were also arriving in Germany around this time. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, had said her country would welcome refugees and many took encouragement from her words, particularly those fleeing the Syrian civil war.

I have been deeply involved with refugees........

© The Guardian