Much of Ai Weiwei's recent work, apart from fighting Lego censorship, has involved collecting things left behind by refugees. In his latest large-scale installation, Soleil Levant, Weiwei collected more than 3,500 life jackets salvaged from refugees who arrived at the Greek island of Lesbos, and stuffed them into the giant windows of the Copenhagen art museum Kunsthal Charlottenborg. As Weiwei noted in his recent exhibition of discarded refugee clothes, Laundromat, their plight takes him back to his own childhood experience as a refugee, when his father was denounced as a "rightist" by China's communist party. Weiwei unveiled Soleil Levant on June 20th, which is the United Nations World Refugee Day.
"With this installation, Ai Weiwei hopes to bring focus to the refugee crisis currently taking place across Europe," Kunsthal Charlottenborg notes on its website. "According to UNHCR, 1,377,349 individuals arrived in Europe via sea in 2015 and 2016. In the same period, over 8,000 individuals have died or disappeared attempting this journey. It is the wide-spread humanitarian crisis, which Ai Weiwei aims to bring focus on."
The installation's title comes from Claude Monet's 1872 painting, Impression, Soleil Levant, a depiction of the Le Havre harbor at the end of the 1870–1871 Franco-Prussian war, just as industrialization was kicking into overdrive. Similarly, Weiwei wanted to capture political and social reality, and this meant making the refugee lifejacket the ideal symbol.
Soleil Levant will be on view at the facade of Kunsthal Charlottenborg until the October 1, 2017. Click here to see more of Ai Weiwei's work.