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Berlin-based Chinese dissident artist and activist Ai Weiwei and chief curator of Tokyo’s Mori Art Museum Mami Kataoka are good friends. They have known each other for more than 10 years. “He says I’m like his sister,” laughs Kataoka, dressed all in black and seated in a meeting room in Sydney’s historic Rocks area. She is preparing the city’s 21st Biennale, programming 70 artists across seven venues, with Weiwei perhaps first among equals. “I have a deep belief in what he does.”

To mark 45 years since the joint 1973 celebrations when the Sydney Biennale was inaugurated and the Opera House officially opened, the Japanese-born curator will interview Weiwei in the Concert Hall and present Weiwei’s film about refugees, Human Flow, for which Weiwei has been travelling to refugee camps from Greece to Iraq, from Gaza to Myanmar, documenting the displacement of millions.

Bani Adam is an Australian-born Lebanese Alawite Muslim teenager smitten with the writing of Nabokov, Faulkner, Joyce and Dostoevsky. He reveres the non-violent activism of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, while planning to quote Shakespeare and Kahlil Gibran to a girl to demonstrate he is a lone romantic in a sea of seething anger.

The year is 2002, and the tabloid media has constructed Arab-Australian Muslims as dangerous others in the wake of a series of Western Sydney gang rapes and the September 11 New York terrorist attacks, the fear ratcheted up by reports of drug-dealing and drive-by shootings.

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