Immigration

The One Photo That Ai Wei Wei Doesn’t Want You To Forget

CREDIT: AP Photo/Santi Palacios

Chinese activist and artist Ai Weiwei walks on a beach next to the town of Mytilini, on the Greek island of Lesbos, Friday, Jan. 1, 2016. The Chinese artist visited the island of Lesbos in solidarity with refugees and migrants who continue to arrive on a daily basis hoping to make their way into Europe. (AP Photo/Santi Palacios)

The powerful photo of Aylan Kurdi, a 3-year-old Syrian refugee who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea last fall, brought global awareness to the growing refugee crisis in Europe — forcing people around the world to look at the toddler’s lifeless body and confront the international policies that allowed his death to occur.

Now, after the mainstream media has moved on, Chinese activist and artist Ai Wei Wei has recreated the image to keep the attention on the continued plight of refugees entering Europe.

In his recreation of the photo, Ai lay with his stomach on the pebbled beach on the Greek island of Lesbos (also known as Lesvos), with his eyes closed and his face tilted towards the camera. The image was taken for the magazine India Today and is a part of an India Art Fair exhibition called “The Artists.”


Ai was in the Greek island of Lesbos working on an art project documenting refugees making landfall, mountains of life jackets, and the huge effort by volunteers to assist refugees.

“It is an iconic image because it is very political, human and involves an incredibly important artist like Ai Weiwei,” Sandy Angus, co-owner of India Art Fair, told the Washington Post. “The image is haunting and represents the whole immigration crisis and the hopelessness of the people who have tried to escape their pasts for a better future.”

As many as 55,528 migrants and refugees crossed the Mediterranean Sea to enter Europe since the beginning of 2016. More than 200 people have died crossing the sea, though rescue operations are ongoing.

Ai has a history of using his art to raise awareness for these issues. Last March, he showcased an exhibition of 500 drawings from Iraqi refugees that presented “powerful responses to life within the refugee camps,” according to a press release. And just last week, Ai shut down his Danish show in protest of a new law that allows Danish authorities to seize valuables from refugees. “They come with nothing, barefoot, in such cold, they have to walk across the rocky beach. Then you have this news; it made me feel very angry,” he told the Guardian at the time.

Banksy, a high-profile street artist, has also helped to highlight the plight of the European refugee crisis, particularly in Calais, France, where the migrant camp known as “The Jungle” is located. About 3,000 migrants from countries like Sudan, Syria, and Afghanistan live there. One of Banksy’s murals depicting the late Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs — whose father was a Syrian refugee — was found in the Calais refugee camp. Another piece of artwork showing refugees on a boat attempting to flag down a luxury yacht turned up in the Calais town center.