Lifejackets and Thermal BlanketsAi Weiwei Stands With the Refugees
You can love or hate Ai Weiwei’s art, but you cannot deny that his activism is ‘major key’. With the refugee crisis bringing headlines to European newspapers and media, Ai has almost solely devoted his past year to bringing to light, not only our inhumanity by closing our borders to many who are in plea, but also to the poor conditions these human beings are submitted to.
Last week he opened an installation in Berlin’s Konzerthaus where he covered the six ionic columns of the building’s façade with 14,000 lifejackets form Lesbos (Greece), a key entry port for refugees arriving in Europe. This past year alone this small island has received over 450,000 refugees and there are many more on their way with hundreds arriving each day.
This is a clear plight to help refugees who are attempting to escape war and poverty principally in Syria and other neighboring countries such as Afghanistan. Ai Weiwei has spent numerous days and made lengthy visits to the Lesbos refugee camp and has posted hundreds of images on Instagram (@aiww) with the refugees. As an attempt to perhaps humanize the migrants and really show the world who we are denying the right to enter our countries, the artist is once again trying to expose our lack of humanity and perhaps indirect actions by not voicing our solidarity. The images he posted whilst in Lesbos are all in black and white and are almost like a photojournalist’s account that is stripped from any editing. The images are dynamically raw.
This installation falls ‘coincidentally’ at the same time as the Berlinale film festival- as a cunning attempt to probably maximize media coverage. Moreover, it is important to note that this is an installation he is putting on in Germany, the country who has welcomed the most number of refugees in the world, over one million by now. So these bright orange lifejackets that are alluding to the dangerous crossing refugees have to make by sea to reach Turkey or Greece or other entryways into Europe, is displayed in a space that recalls tolerance and gives welcome to those in need. There have been many fatalities whilst making this crossing and this bold installation is triumphantly recognizing the effort of these people who are fleeing their country filled with hate, to arrive at a place where, sadly, many do not welcome them.
A week ago he also decided to cover each of his 12 sculptural pieces entitled “Zodiac” of animal heads of the Chinese horoscope, which are in Prague for a special exhibition, with thermal blankets that are being used by migrants in many places to keep warm. This protest against the poor conditions the refugees are living in is also a plea to defend “the dignity of the refugees” as he mentioned.
The hashtag #cinemaforpeace started at an event last night where the Cinema For Peace Gala saw everyone spotting these thermal blankets and life vests over their evening dresses and tuxedos (even Charlize Theron!).
Images Courtesy of Chron