Ai Weiwei’s latest comment on the refugee crisis is a work of art created out of 14,000 lifejackets found on the Greek island of Lesbos. The island’s mayor Spyros Galinos donated the jackets to the Chinese artist and activist, who is due to construct the work in his Berlin studio.
“This work aims to mobilise the global community regarding the crime carried out daily in the Aegean by ruthless people smugglers,” according to a statement issued by local authorities and published by the Greek newspaper Kathimerini.
Made in sweatshops in Turkey and sold for high sums to refugees by traffickers, the lifejackets are rarely useful in emergency. The inflatable garments have also become synonymous with the struggle of hundreds of thousands of people reaching Europe by boat in the hope of a better life. Official figures published yesterday (2 February) by the International Organisation for Migration say 360 people drowned in the Mediterranean in January alone.
Ai has been documenting the plight of refugees in Lesbos for several weeks and last month announced plans to create a memorial on the island. He attracted criticism earlier this week 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. The image of the drowned boy drew international media attention to the crisis and became a catalyst for aid to the area.