The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei recreated the photo of Alan Kurdi, a drowned three-year-old refugee from Syria found washed up on a Turkish beach, in September 2015. That image came to symbolize the plight of refugees.
The photo with Ai Weiwei was taken on the island of Lesbos in January 2016 for India Today, a news magazine. Some found this provocative protest against the European Union’s policy on refugees distasteful or even wrong. There was much discussion in the media. Is it acceptable to create art out of such suffering?
India Today, 1 February 2016
"The India Today team ….spent 48 hours with Ai Weiwei, who is creating
a memorial in Lesbos for the refugees in order to highlight their plight and
spread a message of peace, brotherhood and trust."
Washington Post, 30 January 2016
(Interview with Sandy Angus, Co-Owner, Indian Art Fair)
"It is an iconic image because it is very political, human and involves an incredibly important artist like Ai Weiwei."
artefakt-sz.net, 20 June 2016
"Perhaps it was about sympathy and compassion; he certainly doesn’t want the dead boy to be forgotten."
Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung, 1 February 2016
"It is unsettling. It draws attention to something terrible, something that is still going on; it is also part of an out-of-control art market, whose currency is attention. Is it powerful political art or an embarrassing stunt?”
Achgut.com, 22 March 2016
"It leaves a bad aftertaste. Here we see an artist who courts media coverage lying on a beach like a martyr for a worthy cause in order to elevate what he does into the realm of the parareligious."
faz.net, 3 February 2016
"It is not the first time that critics have suggested that making political statements can be a useful way to make oneself the center of attention."
"The photograph of Ai does not claim to be art. It is a means to an end... Unlike the corpses of the many drowned refugees, Ai’s bulky body is one of the biggest media coverage signboards around. Everybody sees his message.”
Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin, 26 May 2016
"Clearly, Ai Weiwei wants to make us feel uncomfortable. He sees it as his job. Ai against the system: it used to be the dictatorship back home, now it is Europe’s refugee policy. ... He has not changed, but the way he is perceived has."
Welt N24, 1 February 2016
"What does the great moralist Ai Weiwei hope to achieve with this project? You have to be cynical: perhaps he is launching an 'ice-bucket challenge' for refugees. Perhaps he really wants others to pose like that... One would prefer not to think about Ai Weiwei kneeling on the pebbles and rolling about on the beach to find the right spot."
Art Das Kunstmagazin, 5 October 2016
"When artists like Ai Weiwei protest against social injustices, in this case Europe’s refugee policy, they are regularly slammed – by this magazine as well. Such art, its critics say, is scandal-mongering, too aggressive and too shrill. But what should political art be doing? Its critics want to domesticate political art, make it soft and toothless, well-behaved and timid, addressing political themes 'sensitively' without 'laying it on thick'."
Spiegel Online, 3 September 2015
Interview with Alexander Filipović, professor of media ethics
"Journalists should not misuse such photos in order to educate or shake up their readers. The picture is powerful and shattering enough in its own right."