The Arts

Amsterdam Museum Exhibits Ai WeiWei’s Controversial “Safe Passage” Installation For Syrian Migrants

In Berlin, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei covered the outdoor columns of the city’s main concert hall, Konzerthaus, with 14,000 refugee life jackets. In the middle of the columns, Ai placed a black rubber boat with “Safe Passage” written on it.

German authorities removed the jackets days after Ai placed them on the Konzerthaus’ columns, bringing its facade back to its usual state. The controversial installation has made its way to Amsterdam and will be on show at the Foam museum starting in September.


The exhibition is a personal one for the famous artist. As a political refugee who lived under constant government surveillance, Ai feels related to the growing influx of refugees attempting to enter Europe. Since his first visit to the Greek island of Lesbos in December 2015, he and his team have traveled to refugee camps all around the Mediterranean, including in Syria, Turkey, Italy, Israel and France.

The exhibition #SafePassage will deal with the fate of the individual versus the overruling systems of society, switching from Ai Weiwei’s personal experiences as a refugee of the Chinese Government, to the hundreds of thousands refugees and migrants who risked their lives to reach Europe, only to find their path barred by a succession of border closures.

Alongside marble sculptures and films, Ai Weiwei will cover the walls of Foam with thousands of photographs taken on his mobile phone. This immense collage will reflect on all the personal encounters the artist has had with individuals and the tragic situation unfolding in the Mediterranean, bringing to our attention what is, in his own words, “the biggest, most shameful humanitarian crisis since World War II”.

Artist Ai WeiWei

Ai had gathered the bright orange jackets during a visit to Lesbos, a Greek island through which thousands of refugees have passed from the Middle East to Europe. The jackets are meant to represent the individuals who have drowned at sea while on their journeys.

As part of the Cinema for Peace gala at the concert hall, where Ai was an honorary president, the artist aimed to increase awareness of the refugee crisis with this installation, while also criticizing certain Europeans’ responses to it.


Along with most of Europe, Germany has seen tens of thousands of Middle Eastern refugees flock to its country in recent months. Though centers have been created to aid refugees, several anti-refugee organizations have emerged in Germany, with some, like Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West (PEGIDA) spreading to neighboring countries such as the Czech Republic and Denmark. PEGIDA has staged multiple demonstrations and protests against refugee immigration in Germany and beyond.

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s refugee statement: 1,005 life jackets floating in Vienna palace pond

While some people appreciated Ai’s installation for raising awareness and honoring these lost lives, others have been more critical. Artnet’s Hili Perlson wrote that it was an “offensively tasteless photo op.”

The installation will be on show from from Friday, September 16, 2016 to Wednesday, December 7, 2016.

Foam Museum

Keizersgracht 609
1017 DS Amsterdam
The Netherlands
+31 (0)20 551 6500

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