More than 2,400 life jackets worn by refugees who arrived in Greece’s islands have been used to cover the neoclassical pillars at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.
The installation by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei on the outside entrance of the museum is meant to bring attention to an exhibition that’s taking place inside called “When Home Won’t Let You Stay: Art and Migration.”
The life jackets are meant to highlight the perilous journey that refugees and migrants made from Turkey to neighboring Greek islands.
The exhibition, which opened February 23 in Minneapolis, aims to highlight artistic responses to migration, immigration and forced displacement.
The life jackets came from the Greek island of Lesvos and create an alarming image — grabbing pedestrians’ attention regardless of whether they intended to stop at the museum.
And that’s the point, said Gabriel Ritter, curator and head of contemporary art at the museum, said in an interview with CNN.
“My hope is that this does stop people in their tracks and force people to think, and does implicate people in the decisions they make,” he told CNN. “Because here in Minnesota, these are very much our friends, our neighbors, the people we live with as part of our communities.”
The American debut of the installation comes amidst rising refugee tensions in the United States and strong opposition to new refugee arrivals by the Trump Administration.
Minnesota has the highest number of refugees per capita of any state in the United States. That’s one of the reasons the museum said it wanted to bring the work to Minneapolis.
Last month, a federal judge blocked President Donald Trump’s executive order allowing governors to stop refugee resettlement in their states, though just temporarily.
And late last year, the Trump administration announced plans to cut the number of refugees to up to 18,000 — a historic low.
At the same time, multiple states have said they would continue accepting refugees, despite the federal government’s stance.
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