By Rob Cameron March 2017
New artwork by Ai Weiwei in Prague attempts to put our attention back on the global refugee crisis. Rob Cameron meets the artist and takes a look.
A 70-m (230-ft) life raft hangs in the vast hall of Prague’s Trade Fair Palace. In it sit 258 faceless, inflatable figures. Although Ai Weiwei’s monumental new artwork is as light as air, its subject matter is heavy.
Ai Weiwei is himself a refugee and in recent years he has turned his attention to the subject of displaced people. In 2015, he wrapped the columns of Berlin’s Konzerthaus concert hall in hundreds of bright orange life vests. He is currently working on a film, The Human Flow, which will be presented later this year.
The installation of this new artwork in Prague is pointed: the government of the Czech Republic, like many other central European countries, has reacted angrily against the influx of refugees since 2015 and the EU’s system of quotas to accept them. “I say clearly that I don’t want even a single refugee in the Czech Republic, not even temporarily,” Deputy Prime Minister Andrej Babis wrote in August 2015.
As he walks around the new work, Ai tells Rob Cameron that the Czech government’s attitude is “by any means not acceptable because it’s morally wrong. It’s short-sighted. It’s a coward’s behavior.”
“In this time of uncertainty, we need more tolerance, compassion and trust for each other since we all are one. Otherwise, humanity will face an even bigger crisis” Ai added in a statement.
If you would like to comment on this story or anything else you have seen on BBC Culture, head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.
Writter for BBC, Rob Cameron March 2017