Dissident artist Ai Weiwei and U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren bond over refugee rights
The Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei and Republican U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren might seem an odd couple, but they found common cause in Washington, D.C., this week over the plight of refugees.
Hultgren — whose district encompasses parts of all five collar counties as well as parts of Kendall and DeKalb counties — hosted a screening of Weiwei's new film "Human Flow," which documents the world's growing refugee crisis across 23 countries.
"It was his work on human rights that first interested me," said Hultgren, who saw an exhibition of Weiwei's Lego portraits of human rights abuse victims earlier this year, is the co-chair of the bipartisan Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, and has taken up the cause of Zhu Yufu, a Chinese dissident poet jailed for publishing pro-democracy poetry.
"It's a way to connect people with these real-life people who are suffering, today," he said of Weiwei's art, which he joked he "could not afford" in his own home.
Hultgren's outspoken support of refugee rights has placed him in potential conflict with President Donald Trump, whose bans on refugees from a series of majority Muslim countries have been challenged in court. But the congressman, who votes in line with Trump's favored position more than 90 percent of the time, was careful not to directly criticize White House policy this week.
"Immigration is a foundational part of who we are ... to be a place of refuge," he said. "I understand that there are bad actors and terrorists out there ... but I don't want to shut off opportunity for people who really need refuge. I don't think those are mutually exclusive."
For his part, Weiwei — best known for helping to design the "Bird's Nest" stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and for his criticism of the Chinese regime — has been more direct in his opposition to Trump, who he told the Washington Post was "a representative of thinking power is higher than the democratic process."
But Weiwei has nothing to fear on the creative front from Hultgren, who confessed to Chicago Inc. that he has "little talent" for art. Hultgren's Lego projects, he said, are limited to building models of famous architecture, including a scale replica of Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House, which sits in in his congressional district.