Chinese conceptual artist and political activist Ai Weiwei has placed his latest refugee-themed installation — a black rubber boat with 258 figures onboard — in Prague, the capital of a European Union country that has opposed the bloc's efforts to redistribute migrants among member nations.
The giant piece, titled "Law of the Journey,'' attests to Ai's concern with the plight of migrants who embark on the dangerous journey to Europe by sea. He visited 20 refugee sites across the world, including the Greek island of Lesbos, an entry point for many migrants trying to reach western Europe from Turkey.
“To refuse somebody so desperate is almost a crime,” Ai told The Associated Press. “It's immoral, it's short-sighted, and it is not going to benefit this nation. We cannot lose our fundamental beliefs in human rights and human dignity.”
His largest piece so far, the 70-meter (230-foot)-long black rubber boat hangs from the ceiling at the National Gallery's Trade Fair Palace. The site-specific installation that went on exhibit Thursday was made in a Chinese factory that produces dinghies used by actual refugees, Ai said.
The 59-year-old artist has exhibited similar works elsewhere. He used 14,000 discarded life vests collected from the beaches of Lesbos to wrap the columns of Berlin's Konzerthaus and to create lotus blossoms floating on a pond in Vienna's Belvedere park.
The artist also posed as Alan Kurdi, a Syrian toddler whose lifeless body was famously photographed lying face-down on a Lesbos pebble beach. Ai was criticized for exploiting the child's tragic death.
More than 1.2 million people have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe since 2015, data from the International Organization for Migration show. According to the European Commission, the Czech Republic has so far accepted 12 migrants for relocation.