Ai Weiwei Stages Offensive and Tasteless Photo Op at Film Gala in Berlin

Just when you thought it couldn't get any tackier.

Image via Instagram (@aiww). Courtesy to the artist.
Ai Weiwei's life jacket installation in Berlin. Photo: JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images

Ai Weiwei’s life jacket installation in Berlin.

The internet is still busy commenting on Ai Weiwei’s latest misguided installation at Berlin’s Konzerthaus, which involved attaching 14,000 life jackets flown in from the Greek island of Lesbos to the building’s 19th-century façade. The installation is meant to commemorate refugees drowned at sea on the occasion of the annual Cinema for Peace gala, which took place inside the venue as part of the Berlin Film Festival.

What went on inside the gala, however, was described by several journalists and participants as a tasteless stunt by the Chinese activist artist, who is clearly unfazed by the huge backlash caused by his recreation of the tragic image of the drowned three-year-old Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi.

The German publication Stern describes the crass scenes from the evening’s photo call as well-heeled guests, including Hollywood star Charlize Theron, walked up the stairs in evening robes alongside a black rubber boat emblazoned with the words “Safe Passage,” which is the name given by the artist to his installation.

Once inside, guests posed for photos draped in metallic emergency blankets, in the fashion of a recent photo showing Ai standing on the coast in Lesbos donning the thermal blanket.

Not everyone was impressed. Berlin’s culture senator, Tim Renner, posted impressions from the evening, calling it “obscene”: “When Ai Weiwei illustrates the dimensions of terror outside [the gala] with 14,000 life jackets from Lesbos, it is perhaps not subtle but effective and justified; but when the guests of Cinema for Peace are prompted by the organizer to don emergency blankets for a group photo, even if understood as an act of solidarity, it has a clearly obscene element…”

Tim Renner called the evening "obscene" on his Facebook page

The artist has been advocating to raise awareness of the plight of refugees risking their lives on the perilous journey to Europe, and has even opened an additional studio on the island of Lesbos.

While his efforts are certainly important, his aestheticized antics have caused many to question the motivations behind his decisions. The artist, however, maintains that these displays are “a gesture…in defending the dignity of the refugees.”

Ai appears to find endless inspiration in the metallic thermal blankets in particular. Earlier this month in Prague, he covered the bronze animal heads of his artwork Zodiac Heads with blankets as well. The heads are installed in front of the National Gallery’s Trade Fair Palace, and are part of an exhibition marking the gallery’s 220th anniversary.

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