Ai Weiwei Wraps 14,000 Refugee Life Jackets Around Berlin Landmark

Thursday, February 18, 2016 |
A new installation by the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei makes use of thousands of life vests collected from Syrian refugees entering Europe via the Greek island of Lesbos. Unveiled on February 14, 2016, the display features over 14,000 orange vests wrapped around the pillars of Berlin’s Konzerthaus, and a lifeboat dangling in the centre of the columns that reads “#safepassage.” The striking public demonstration aims to highlight the continued suffering of asylum seekers as they desperately try to reach safety in Europe.

The used jackets were provided to Germany from Lesbos, after being discarded by migrants who were able to reach the island’s shores. Weiwei has spent the last year or so documenting the journey of refugees to Greece and, through hundreds of images, creates an unflinching account of the deplorable conditions surrounding this humanitarian crisis. According to the International Organization for Migration, over 1 million refugees arrived in Europe in 2015 using a sea route; since just January of this year, over 400 people were lost along their the treacherous journey. Weiwei’s installation draws attention to the fact that many do not make it to safe shores alive, the sheer number of jackets presenting the confronting fact of the huge number of lives that are being torn apart by this ongoing crisis.

Image via Oliver Lang / courtesy of Konzerthaus Berlin

The installation coincided with Konzerhaus' Cinema for Peace Gala, a “worldwide initiative, promoting humanity through film.” The life vest display colourfully and prominently calls into question the actions of fellow peacemakers, placing the reality of the situation in plain view. Weiwei has been an active voice critiquing Europe’s response to the refugee crisis in recent months. On February 1, he posted an image, recreating the iconic photo of the drowned Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi. In September of last year, he lead a protest march in London, calling for “human rather than political” responses to the ongoing humanity crisis, and today continues to make his voice heard.

Image via Oliver Lang / courtesy of Konzerthaus Berlin

Image via Oliver Lang / courtesy of Konzerthaus Berlin

Image via Oliver Lang / courtesy of Konzerthaus Berlin

Image via mompl

Image via mompl

Image via mompl

Image via Oliver Lang / courtesy of Konzerthaus Berlin

Image by Frank Löschner / Courtesy of Konzerthaus Berlin


Image by Frank Löschner / Courtesy of Konzerthaus Berlin

Image by Frank Löschner / Courtesy of Konzerthaus Berlin

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