ai weiwei questions the migration crisis
For the 9th annual edition of Québec City’s Passages Insolites art fair, humanitarian activist artist Ai Weiwei presents his monumental new artwork, Life Jackets. The poignant installation takes over a defensive rampart of the Royal Battery in Québec, Canada, questioning local history and European colonization. Exhibiting a colourful wall of 2000 life vests that were once used by Syrian refugees and collected in Greece by the artist himself, Ai Weiwei presents a sensitive socio-political commentary on the dangers of the migration crisis.
all images by Stéphane Bourgeois
2000 life jackets take over Québec’s Passages Insolites 2022
For the Life Jackets installation, in 2016 on the Greek island of Lesbos, Ai Weiwei recovered 2000 life vests that once belonged to Syrian refugees fleeing to Europe. Agglomerated to build a colorful symbolic border occupying the ramparts of the Royal Battery along a small moat like a doubly protected enclosure or a fortified military barricade, these remnants of the migration crisis confront the audience with the dangerous journeys of those desperately trying to escape the violence of war.
With its context, the contemporary Chinese artist’s large-scale installation not only resonates with, but also questions local history, echoing the migratory roots of European colonization in Canada. The Royal Battery was originally built by the French in 1961 as a military defense structure to counter English invasion attempts. By evoking the border demarcations that still govern human mobility, the architectural structure reinforces the purpose of the work that covers it.
2000 life jackets take over the defensive ramparts of the Royal Battery
a poignant and monumental installation
Life Jackets by Ai Weiwei is the newest iteration from a series of site-specific installations first exhibited in Berlin and Vienna in 2016, and then in Copenhagen in 2017. Now presented in Québec City for its major North American premier, the monumental Life Jackets took over 10 days of work, mobilizing nearly 15 full-time staff members. Alongside 15 other thought-provoking artworks displayed at Passages Insolites 2022, Weiwei’s signature artwork of the fair will occupy the ramparts of the Royal Battery in a sensitive and poignant way between June 25 and October 10, 2022.
Humanitarian activist artist Ai Weiwei is renowned for his committed, iconoclastic, and subversive practice that criticizes the economic, political, and social power imbalances in the world. Considered one of the most important living artists on the international scene, in 2021 Weiwei was named the most influential artist in the world by Art Review magazine. Moreover, his 2017 documentary film Human Flow, about the terrible conditions of refugees affected by war and disaster around the world, has won 7 awards and 14 nominations at international film festivals.
the installation presents a sensitive socio-political commentary on the dangers of the migration crisis
in 2016, Ai Weiwei recovered the life jackets on the Greek island of Lesbos himself
Life Jackets echoes the migratory roots of European colonization in Canada