5 times Ai Weiwei’s art has called attention to the refugee crisis

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Artist Ai Wei Wei  waves under Big Ben as he walks with Anish Kapoor through central London, September 17, 2015.  Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei and British-Indian sculptor Anish Kapoor led a protest march through central London on Thursday to press for "human rather than political" responses to the refugee crisis. The two artists each carried a tatty, grey blanket as a symbol of the needs of the world's refugees, whose number reached a record 60 million this year, according to the United Nations refugee agency. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls   - RTS1KBI

Artist Ai Wei Wei waves under Big Ben as he walks with Anish Kapoor through central London, September 17, 2015. Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei and British-Indian sculptor Anish Kapoor led a protest march through central London on Thursday to press for “human rather than political” responses to the refugee crisis. Photo by Peter Nicholls/Reuters

Ai Weiwei, a Chinese dissident artist and activist known for his critical view of the Chinese government, has a new cause.

As a political activist, Ai has often used his art to comment on the Chinese government and human rights issues. After government-constructed schools collapsed during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, killing more than 5,000 students, Ai pushed the government to take accountability for the deaths with an installation listing the names of children that were killed. He also served as the artistic consultant Swiss architects, Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron while they designed the Beijing Stadium for the 2008 Olympics.

Ai was arrested in 2011 by the Chinese government and held for 81 days without any official charges filed against him. The government also retained his passport for four years until returning it last July. He moved to Berlin, which has recently become a haven for some of the more than 4.7 million people who have fled war in Syria.

Here are five times Ai has used his work to comment on the refugee situation.

Workers bulid up an instalation by Chinese artist and free-speech advocate Ai Weiwei with life jackets left by migrants on Greek beaches on columns at the Schauspielhaus concert hall during the 66th Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin, Germany February 13, 2016. Ai Weiwei used about 14,000 discarded life jackets, which he obtained from authorities from the Greek island of Lesbos for this memorial project.  REUTERS/Stefanie Loos FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.   - RTX26QMV

Workers build up an installation by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei with life jackets left by migrants on Greek beaches on columns at the Konzerthaus concert hall during the 66th Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin on Feb. 13, 2016. Photo by Stefanie Loos/Reuters

1. Wrapped a German concert hall in thousands of refugees’ life vests

Ai wrapped the columns of Berlin’s Konzerthaus with 14,000 salvaged refugee life vests on Feb. 13. The temporary installment was created for the Cinema for Peace Gala, where Ai served as honorary president this year. At the gala event, Ai asked the room of high-profile celebrities like Charlize Theron to don thermal blankets and take selfies, according to The Guardian.

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC - FEBRUARY 05:  People walk past the 'Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads' sculptures by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei in front of the Trade Fair Palace run by the National Gallery on February 5, 2016 in Prague, Czech Republic. An exhibition in front of the palace runs from February 6 to August 31, 2016. Ai Weiwei wrapped his bronze heads with thermal blankets to protest against migrants situation in Europe. It is the first time that the artist exhibits his work in the Czech Republic.  (Photo by Matej Divizna/Getty Images)

People walk past the ‘Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads’ sculptures by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei in front of the Trade Fair Palace run by the National Gallery on Feb. 5, 2016 in Prague, Czech Republic.

2. Covered his previous sculptures in golden thermal blankets

Earlier this month in Prague, Weiwei wrapped golden thermal blankets around the his Zodiac animal heads sculptures on display in front of the National Gallery’s Trade and Fair Palace. The Zodiac heads, which represent the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac, are part of a multi-year touring exhibition that launched in New York City in May 2011.

For the exhibition, Ai explored the design of fake and copied Zodiac heads, whose design dates back to the 18th century. The exhibition arrived in Prague in February and will be there through August. Ai described his display as a “gesture in defending the dignity of refugees.” The exhibition will run through Aug. 31.

This picture taken on January 28, 2016 shows the Faurschou Foundation in Copenhagen, where the Chinese artist Ai WeiWei closed the exhibition "Ruptures" after lawmakers passed a controversial bill allowing authorities to seize valuables from asylum seekers.   The exhibition opened in March 2015 and had been due to close in mid-April 2016. / AFP / Scanpix Denmark AND Scanpix / Mathias Loevgreen Bojesen / Denmark OUT        (Photo credit should read MATHIAS LOEVGREEN BOJESEN/AFP/Getty Images)

This picture taken on Jan. 28, 2016, shows the Faurschou Foundation in Copenhagen, where the Chinese artist Ai WeiWei closed the exhibition “Ruptures” after lawmakers passed a controversial bill allowing authorities to seize valuables from asylum seekers. Photo by Mathias Loevgreen Bojesen/AFP/Getty Images)

3. Closed an exhibition in protest of Danish law

In protest of the new law that enables authorities to seize assets of asylum seekers as they enter Denmark, Ai closed down his exhibition, “Ruptures,” at the Faurschou Foundation in Copenhagen in January.

“I cannot co-exist, I cannot stand in front of these people, and see these policies,” he told the Guardian. “It is a personal act, very simple; an artist trying not just to watch events but to act, and I made this decision spontaneously.”

Jen Faurschou, who owns the Faurschou Foundation, supported Ai’s decision. The exhibition in Copenhagen was expected to close in mid-April.

“This is not so much about which country does more or less for refugees, it is the symbolic importance of the new law,” Faurschou told the Guardian. “This [kind of thing] is spreading over Europe, and we in Denmark are taking the lead in this by making this law.

Artists Ai Wei Wei and Anish Kapoor (R) carry blankets to symbolize the plight of refugees,  as they walk through central London, September 17, 2015. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls - RTS1K7G

Artists Ai Wei Wei and Anish Kapoor, right, carry blankets to symbolize the plight of refugees, as they walk through central London on Sept. 17, 2015. Photo by Peter Nicholls/Reuters

4. Organized a “walk of compassion” in London

Ai organized a march in London that took place on Sept. 17, 2015, with Anish Kapoor, a British-Indian sculptor. The two walked eight miles hand-in-hand from the Royal Academy of Arts to the Orbit, an event they called a “walk of compassion,” with more than 100 followers.

“This problem has such a long history, a human history. We are all refugees somehow, somewhere and at some moment,” he told The Guardian. “We are trying to do positive action: by opening a certain spirit, a certain poetic space, we can at least hope to change how we think about the problem.”

5. Recreated a photo of a drowned Syrian toddler

Ai collaborated with photographer Rohit Chawla from India Today to recreate the now-famous image of Aylan Kurdi, a Syrian toddler who drowned off the coast of Turkey. Nilüfer Demir’s photo of Kurdi quickly swept across the Internet, drawing new attention to the refugee crisis. Ai also established a studio on the Greek island of Lesbos, a key point of entry into Europe for thousands of refugees.

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