Ai Weiwei’s Larger-Than-Life Sculpture Makes a Bold Statement About the Refugee Crisis
He’s targeting countries that refuse to welcome asylum-seekers.
He’s done it again — Ai Weiwei, the internationally renowned artist-activist, has reignited the conversation around the global refugee crisis through a piece of his art.
The piece, titled “Law of the Journey,” is a 60-meter long boat filled with more than 300 faceless refugee men, women, and children, made entirely of rubber from the same company that manufactures most of the dinghies used by migrants to cross the Mediterranean Sea. The artwork was initially made for and displayed at the National Museum of Prague in the Czech Republic, but was brought to a warehouse on Cockatoo Island, Australia as part of the Sydney Biennale exhibition.
“The refugee condition is a human condition,” Ai said at the piece’s reveal.
“We are living in a very peaceful world, almost like a fairy tale, in Australia. But still, we cannot disassociate our connections to other human beings — the suffering and the tragic life of our global human community.”
Both the country for which the installation was made and the country in which it’s currently being exhibited have been criticized for their responses to the global refugee crisis. As Ai pointed out at the piece’s unveiling, the Czech Republic still refuses to accept asylum-seekers and has actively closed its borders to African and Middle Eastern migrants trying to make their way to more refugee-friendly countries.
Australia has sicked its military on refugee boats attempting to reach its shores, forcing them to turn around and return to countries like Indonesia and India, a practice a United Nations special rapporteur has dubbed illegal. If migrants are lucky enough to reach Australia’s shores, they’re often indefinitely held in detention centers on one of two nearby island nations — sites of well-documented human rights abuses — or assigned visas that offer little in terms of financial support.
In its most recent attempt to rid itself of refugees, Australia struck a deal with the United States to relocate more than 1,200 migrants from its offshore detention centers. At the reveal of “Law of the Journey,” Ai directly addressed this issue, calling it a “complete insult to the understanding of refugees,” according to The Guardian.
“It’s exactly like slave trading. You cannot deal with human beings by violating their [rights],” he said.
Born in China, Ai has been a dissenting voice against the Chinese government’s democracy and human rights record. Ai’s family was exiled to the edge of China’s Gobi Desert when he was an infant because of his poet father’s politics, and he uses this life experience to inform his work on the refugee crisis.
“Law of the Journey” is not Ai’s first work highlighting the plight of refugees. His recent film, a documentary called “Human Flow,” takes a hyperpersonal look into the global crisis. Ai travelled for two years, visiting 23 countries and 40 refugee camps, to create the film.
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The “Law of the Journey” installation is accompanied by a smaller sculpture, revealed last week, a two-ton “Crystal Ball” supported by a ring of life jackets that offers viewers the chance to reflect on their own role in the refugee crisis.
Ai has claimed before that the refugee crisis is an important test for humanity. It is “not about refugees, rather, it is about us,” he wrote in The Guardian. “Our prioritization of financial gain over people’s struggle for the necessities of life is the primary cause of much of this crisis.”
“Establishing the understanding that we all belong to one humanity is the most essential step for how we might continue to coexist on this sphere we call Earth,” he wrote.
Global Citizen campaigns to support sensible and humane refugee policies. You can take action on this issue here.
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