Ai Weiwei Reconstructs Haunting Refugee Photograph

By Daniel Mannering, February 6, 2016

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Ai Weiwei is in the headlines again this week following a series of projects aimed at raising awareness for the plight of Syrian refugees.

The infamous and often controversial Chinese artist and activist recently reenacted the photo of the drowned infant Alan Kurdi, which was taken last September near the Turkish resort of Bodrum. According to The Guardian, the image heard round the world symbolized the struggle of Syrian refugees last year.


Ai, who's always in the headlines for one reason or another, sought to bring to light the difficulties and dangers of the refugee experience by recreating the image. In his version of the photo, pictured at top, he is shown laying face-down on a pebbled beach in a similar pose to that of the lifeless boy.

The image was exhibited at the India Art Fair, where co-owner Sandy Angus told The Washington Post, "It is an iconic image because it is very political, human and involves an incredibly important artist like Ai Weiwei. The image is haunting and represents the whole immigration crisis and the hopelessness of the people who have tried to escape their pasts for a better future.”

On the Greek island of Lesbos, which harbors the studio Ai is currently said to be working from, he looks to be involved in several projects that aim to continue to engage with the ongoing refugee crisis. The island itself is at the center of the refugee debate as it acts as staging-post for entry into the European Union.

On Monday the mayor of Lesbos donated 14,000 lifejackets to the Chinese artist, who will use the lifejackets in a work to be assembled in his Berline studio. All of the lifejackets were found on the island and used by refugees.


Recently the artist has sought out other ways to aid refugees. As a mark of protest against new laws allowig Danish authorities to seize items and valuables carried by asylum seekers, Ai also recently announced the close of his exhibition "Ruptures" at Denmark’s Faurschou Foundation Copenhagen.

“My moments with refugees in the past months have been intense," Ai told The Guardian. "I see thousands come daily, children, babies, pregnant women, old ladies, a young boy with one arm.

“They come with nothing, barefoot, in such cold, they have to walk across the rocky beach. Then you have this news; it made me feel very angry.

“The way I can protest is that I can withdraw my works from that country. It is very simple, very symbolic – I cannot co-exist, I cannot stand in front of these people, and see these policies. It is a personal act, very simple; an artist trying not just to watch events but to act, and I made this decision spontaneously.”

[Images via Washington Post, The Guardian]

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