CONTROVERSIAL Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has unveiled his largest installation to date at the National Gallery Prague, Czech Republic.
Entitled “Law of the Journey”, the piece takes the form of a giant refugee boat and is displayed hanging from the ceiling in the gallery’s so-called Big Hall.
For several years, the focus of Ai’s work has been the plight of refugees fleeing the Middle East and North Africa for Europe, including installing a grand piano at the Idomeni camp on the Greek-Macedonian border.
Ai relocated his studio to Lesbos Island in Greece last year, where the authorities have registered the arrival of 2,000 refugees since the beginning of 2017. January saw harsh winter weather turn difficult living conditions unbearable for the many refugees on the island.
Last year, Ai ruffled feathers when he recreated the iconic image of drowned three-year-old refugee Aylan Kurdi. The 2015 photograph of a child lying on a Turkish beach triggered international outrage as people saw the helpless toddler as the human face of the refugee crisis in Europe.
“Law of the Journey” is the centrepiece of Ai’s first solo exhibition in the Czech Republic, and takes a subtle jab at the anti-migrant policies of that nation.
The Czech Republic is one of a few European Union countries to refuse to accept refugees under a refugee deal with Turkey, and threatened to sue the EU if its bureaucrats attempted to forcibly impose mandatory migrant quotas.
According to Jan Čulík from the University of Glasgow, the arrival of largely-Muslim refugees into Central European states like Czech Republic “was met with unprecedented anger and hostility from an overwhelming majority of citizens.”
Commenting on the installation in Prague, Ai asserted “the real crisis is not all the people who feel the pain, but rather for the people who ignore it or pretend that it doesn’t exist.”
“That is both a tragedy and a crime.”
“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.”