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Migrants as art

May 26. 2016
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Tear gas canisters and marble statues mix in a new exhibition by Ai Weiwei
ARTIST AI WEIWEI has opened a new show in one of Athens’ top archaeological museums, with Macedonian police tear gas canisters as one of the main exhibits.
“Ai Weiwei at Cycladic”, which opened last Friday at the Museum of Cycladic Art, features a number of works inspired by Europe’s migrant crisis.
One of them, “Tear bottle/tear gas canister” – a display of canisters alongside antique bottles used to collect the tears of mourners – refers to an incident last month when Macedonian police used tear gas and rubber bullets against refugees trying to enter Macedonia from the Greek border camp of Idomeni.
Outside the museum, there are flags in silver and gold – the colour of emergency blankets given to refugees and migrants by aid groups as they emerge from the cold waters of the Aegean Sea.
One of the flags evokes the image of Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian toddler whose tiny body was found lying face down on a Turkish beach in September, drawing global attention to the crisis for the first time.
Ai himself caused a stir earlier this year by re-creating Aylan’s death pose on beach on the island of Lesbos, a key hot spot for new arrivals, in a photo shoot for India Today magazine.
Other exhibits titled “Tyre” and “Zodiac Boat” recall the perilous crossing made by hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants in flimsy rubber vessels, wearing makeshift lifejackets often more likely to kill than to help.
The exhibition runs to October 10.
Ai has taken a personal interest in the thousands of refugees and migrants who have risked their lives to get to Europe, only to find their path barred by a barrage of border closures.
Now a regular visitor to Lesbos, Ai has set up a studio and plans to create a refugee memorial on the island.
In February, he draped thousands of life jackets discarded by migrants arriving in Greece around the columns of Berlin’s Konzerthaus concert hall.
And earlier in May, he visited Gaza for a documentary he is filming on the refugee crisis, as hundreds of Palestinians have also made the treacherous journey.
China’s most prominent contemporary artist, Ai helped design the Bird’s Nest stadium for the Beijing Olympics and has been exhibited around the globe, but his works have often fallen foul of China's authorities.
He was detained in 2011 for 81 days over his advocacy of democracy and human rights as well as other criticisms of the government in Beijing.

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