No stranger to courting a little controversy, Ai Weiwei has received more than mixed reviews for his latest art project in which he had hundreds of actors and socialites at Berlin’s annual Cinema for Peace gala wrap themselves up in refugee jackets of gold to help raise awareness for the Syrian refugee crisis.
Among the big names in attendance was Academy Award-winning actress Charlize Theron, who attended the gala to support her charity, the African Outreach Project, which helps African youth keep themselves safe from HIV/AIDS.
Theron had arrived in a glamorous black Dior gown. After presenting the Nelson Mandela Award for The Most Valuable Movie of the Year to Beasts of No Nation, she too covered herself in gold foil to support Ai.
— Elhum Shakerifar (@lalalooms) February 16, 2016
Gala attendees put on the gold jackets during the presentation of the Refugee Award for A Syrian Love Story, a documentary about a couple who were separated fleeing from a Syrian prison. On stage was German actress Katja Riemann and the family featured in the film.
“Syrians do not want to be refugees. They want to live freely in their country,” the mother said in Arabic with her son at her side. Riemann then told the audience to look for a gift under their seat, which turned out to be a gold foil cape representing those that kept refugees warm on the shores of Lesbos.
It didn’t take long for celebrities to erupt into selfie-action, making silly faces and sharing their photos online.
Art Net reports that Berlin’s cultural secretary Tim Renner wasn’t happy with the sudden change of tone in the gala and took to Facebook to lash out at Ai:
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.
Ai is currently on the Greek Island of Lesbos researching Europe’s refugee crisis. Earlier this week, he covered the Schauspielhaus concert hall in Berlin with some 14,000 life jackets. Despite criticism for his work such as his recreation of a photo of drowned Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi, he maintains that everything he does is to “defend the dignity” of the refugees.
“My moments with refugees in the past months have been intense. I see thousands come daily, children, babies, pregnant women, old ladies, a young boy with one arm,” he told The Guardian.
But has Ai gone too far this time?
By Eugenia Xiao
[Images via Instagram]