Ai Weiwei’s Call For Compassion

BY Katrina Kufer / Apr 10 2017 / 18:19 PM

The Chinese artist returns with a new monumental political installation at the National Gallery in Prague

Ai Weiwei’s Call For Compassion
Image courtesy National Gallery, Prague
Ai Weiwei in front of his installation Law of the Journey (2017)

The Veletržní Palace is the home of the controversial artist and political activist’s latest site-specific work. Law of the Journey is a 70-metre-long black rubber dinghy filled with 258 larger-than-life faceless refugee effigies wearing lifejackets. The installation is the centerpiece of the eponymous exhibition, the title alluding to Walter Benjamin’s reading of Franz Kafka’s das Gesetz der Fahrt (‘law of the journey’). Curated by Jiří Fajt and Adam Budak, the ominous floating work acknowledges how the refugee crisis has turned lifejackets and lifeboats from objects of hope or salvation into symbols of the tragedy of identity-less people and hints at how despite its imposing presence, the public continues on blindly.

The last two years have seen Weiwei’s work become increasingly political statement-oriented, as opposed to aesthetically driven, in his documentation of the plight of refugees – and this work has been installed in a location with its own history: from 1939-41 it was an assembly point for Jews prior to deportation to concentration camps. The institution describes Weiwei’s exhibition as a “multi-layered, epic statement on the human condition: an artist’s expression of empathy and moral concern in the face of continuous, uncontrolled destruction and carnage.” The installation and show at large act as vehicles that declare the situation at hand a human crisis. Weiwei stated that the contemporary times indicate that humanity has lost its basic values and calls out for heightened tolerance and compassion.
Marking his first show in Central-Eastern Europethe exhibition also includes works such as Laundromat (2016), a portrait of refugee displacement, With Flowers (2013-15), a performative protest on the topic of his passport confiscation, and Snake Ceiling (2009), a tribute to the thousands of lost lives due to the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

Law of the Journey runs until 7 January 2018 at Veletržní Palace, Prague, Czech Republic. For more information visit