Ai Weiwei Honored with Refugees International Exceptional Service Award

At its 16th Annual New York Circle luncheon on October 23, 2018, Refugees International honored artist and humanitarian Ai Weiwei with its 2018 Exceptional Service Award for his continuous work and advocacy on behalf of refugees. 

 “Mr. Ai’s commitment to promoting democracy, free expression, and human rights—at personal risk and sacrifice—is inspiring,” said Refugees International President Eric Schwartz. “His unwavering commitment to confront injustice and his use of art in that noble pursuit is exemplary, and we are honored to present him with this award.”

Actor and RI board member Thomas Sadoski co-chaired the event with his wife Amanda Seyfried and fellow RI board members Maureen White and Steven Rattner. In his introduction to the event, Sadoski had a simple call to action for those in the room:

“I was asked to talk about what it is that we here as people in this room can do for the people, the human lives that are on the precipice, the displaced, and the suffering.… The first action we can take—the most compassionate action we can take—is to stop, to look and to see, to listen and to hear, to understand and to know,” he said.  

The most compassionate action we can take is to stop... to look and to see, to listen and to hear, to understand and to know.
— Tom Sadoski

Alexandra Munroe, senior curator and senior advisor at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation introduced Mr. Ai in conversation with award-winning journalist and editor of the New Yorker, David Remnick. 

“Ai has told us that he has always viewed himself as a refugee,” said Munroe. “A child of Mao’s red China and the son of an exiled poet, Weiwei was never at home in the place of his own birth.” 

“Weiwei is an idealist who can tackle the most brutal reality,” she continued. “Some might find this a paradox. But for Weiwei, belief in the power of art to change real life conditions drives his work as an artist, filmmaker, blogger, dissident, and most recently as a global refugee crisis humanitarian.”

But for Weiwei, belief in the power of art to change real life conditions drives his work
— Alexandra Munroe

In conversation, David Remnick asked Mr. Ai about his art, activism, and experience working with refugees and the displaced.

 Refugees International’s New York Circle is an awards ceremony and celebration honoring individuals who have demonstrated extraordinary leadership and commitment to humanitarian action. The highlight of the event is the presentation of the RI’s Exceptional Service Award to an individual who has committed his or her life’s work to tackling today’s humanitarian challenges. The New York Circle takes place at a critical time when more than 68.5 million people around the world have been forced to flee their homes due to war, conflict, and persecution.

Refugees International wishes to thank the following sponsors of our 16th Annual New York Circle luncheon: Maureen White, Steve Rattner, Eva and Glenn Dubin, Eileen Shields-West, Elizabeth Galvin, Heineken, Jan and Amos Weil, George Valanos, Nina Saglimbeni, Sally Paridis, Demet Oger, Donna Rosen, UBS/Rod von Lipsey, and Anh Nuyen Steininger.

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