In remembrance of the thousands of refugees who have drowned making the perilous journey to Europe, the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has covered the front of a Berlin landmark with 14,000 bright orange lifejackets found on the Greek island of Lesbos.
Members of Ai’s Berlin studio created the work on Saturday (13 February) by wrapping the vests around the six Ionic columns at the north entrance of the city’s Konzerthaus. The annual Cinema for Peace gala is being held at the venue today (15 February) as part of the Berlin Film Festival.
Spyros Galinos, the mayor of Lesbos, donated the jackets to the activist artist, who has been documenting the plight of refugees arriving on Lesbos for several weeks. The inflatable vests have become synonymous with the struggle of hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war-torn regions in the hope of a better life. Official figures published on 2 February by the International Organisation for Migration say 360 people drowned in the Mediterranean in January alone.
Ai has campaigned tirelessly for the safe passage of refugees, cancelling shows in Denmark in protest over its refugee policies. He sparked controversy earlier this month for posing for India Today magazine as Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian toddler whose body was found washed up on a beach in Turkey in September.
In Prague, the artist has wrapped an edition of Zodiac Heads from his own collection in foil blankets as another gesture of solidarity with the many refugees attempting the dangerous sea crossing from Turkey to Greece. Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads went on show on 5 February in the capital of the Czech Republic.
• With additional reporting by Javier Pes