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Ai Weiwei unveils huge refugee boat installation

‘Law of the Journey’ features a 70-metre-long inflatable boat with 258 huge refugee figures, the Chinese artist’s biggest piece ever

Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei is known for his collection of works that challenge corruption, surveillance and censorship. His recent pieces have focused on the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe – now, with his biggest piece to date, Ai Weiwei has unveiled a giant installation at the National Gallery in Prague that challenges “shameful” politicans who ignore the plight of the displaced millions.

Titled Law of the Journey, the huge installation features a 70-metre-long inflatable boat sculpture, along with 258 oversized figures to represent the thousands who have attempted to cross the Mediterranean. According to the International Organisation for Migration, more than 1.2 million people have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe since 2015. The Czech Republic is one of several nations to have rejected EU plans to allow Muslim refugees in throughout the global crisis.

“I think this is very, very shameful behaviour,” he told AP, noting the deliberate ignorance of politicans when it comes to addressing the ongoing crisis. “My message is very clear: being a politician or a political group, you cannot be so short-sighted, you cannot have no vision, you cannot sacrifice human dignity and human rights for political gain.”

“If we see somebody who has been victimised by war or desperately trying to find a peaceful place, if we don’t accept those people, the real challenge and the real crisis is not of all the people who feel the pain but rather for the people who ignore to recognise it or pretend that it doesn’t exist,” the artists said. “That is both a tragedy and a crime.”

He detailed how the installation was created in a Chinese factory that also makes actual dinghies that have been used by refugees. The exhibition is currently on display in Prague, Czech Republic – according to the European Commission, the country has accepted 12 refugees for relocation so far. A CVVM institute poll last year found 61 percent of Czechs were against accepting war refugees. 

Ai Weiwei spent considerable time in previous years visiting holding camps in Greece, the Turkish-Syrian border and the U.S-Mexican border. He controversially posed as drowned Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi for a piece, which was met with widespread criticism. He encouraged attendees at an event to take selfies in refugee jackets for an equally controversial show, and brought a grand piano to an Idomeni refugee camp. He also took his “F. Lotus” life jacket installation to Vienna’s Belvedere Palace and the Berlin concert hall. His Danish exhibition, Ruptures, closed early in protest over a law that could enable authorities to seize valuables from refugees. He's also working on a film that was made from 600 hours of footage at the Greek and Macedonian refugee camps.

Watch the dissident artist discuss his latest work below.

Ai Weiwei: Law of the Journey is at the National Gallery of Prague, Veletržní palác, Dukelských hrdinů 47, Prague, from March 17 2017–July 1 2018