Ai Weiwei knows a thing or two about human displacement. The 59-year-old Chinese artist was raised in exile, after his poet father fell from political favour. However, his new, gigantic artwork, opening Friday 17 March, was inspired directly by one specific flow of migration.
Law of the Journey is the title of both the artist’s new show at the Trade Fair Palace within the National Gallery in Prague and its chief artwork. This seventy metre (320 ft.) long inflatable black dinghy will be filled with 258 matching, life-jacket wearing, larger-than-life figures, and was created after Ai spent some time among the refugees arriving on the Greek island of Lesbos last year.
The piece echoes earlier forced migrations; the venue served as an assembly point for Jews before their deportation to a Nazi concentration camp. However, the artist sees Law of the Journey as both a commentary and as a warning.
“There’s no refugee crisis, but only human crisis,” Ai said. “In dealing with refugees we’ve lost our very basic values. 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.”
So, perhaps these figures are not a reflection of refugees past, but of greater displacement yet to come. For a deeper understanding of this important artist's work order a copy of our Contemporary Artist Series book on Ai Weiwei.