Kiwi artist barred from re-entering war zone

By Portia Mao

Artist-turned-fighter Weiming Chen reunited with his wife Anne.
Artist-turned-fighter Weiming Chen reunited with his wife Anne.

A Chinese New Zealander who went to Syria to join rebel fighters has been reunited with his wife in the US.

Weiming Chen, who sculpted several well-known works, including a statue of Sir Edmund Hillary at Orewa, stunned his family and the New Zealand arts community last October when he suddenly flew to Turkey to join the resistance against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

His Auckland-based wife, Anne, said she didn't know he intended to join the Syrian conflict but she supported his choice. This week, she flew to the US to see him for the first time since the father-of-three left abruptly.

After time at the frontline, Chen went to the US last month to raise funds for the Syrian liberation army.

Chen has exhibited widely in the US, including a bronze of President Barack Obama, which has been displayed in Congress.

Chen attempted to return to Turkey with an undisclosed amount of money raised from New York and Los Angeles this month.

However, he was denied entry on arrival at Istanbul because of a "90 days" rule, which means a foreign tourist cannot spend more than 90 days in the country within a 180-day period.

Chen, who was not aware of the 90-day rule before he went to Turkey, told the Herald on Sunday that it was "regrettable" he was prevented from meeting his Syrian comrades to pass on the donations.

Chen said a bullet was quite expensive in Syria - about US$2 ($2.84) - while daily life expenses amounted to only about US5c.

Asked whether he feared being killed, he said: "No, I don't. It is not that easy to be killed. From what I can see, about 10 per cent of the liberty [liberation] army soldiers were killed. It is sort of like to win a Lotto to be one of the 10 per cent."

He said what struck him most about Syria was the normal perception of Islam. He said it was widely believed Islamic people were violent yet he found people friendly, approachable and very easy to deal with.

Before she left to meet him, his wife said she wanted her husband to stay out of the war-torn region.

But she said she knew her husband would not take her advice. "He is an artist who follows his heart."

- Herald on Sunday

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