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Pillars at Minneapolis Institute of Art wear thousands of life jackets used by refugees

The moving piece of art by renowned artist Ai Weiwei will welcome visitors to the Institute starting February 24.

Pillars at Minneapolis Institute of Art wear thousands of life jackets used by refugees
Image Source: Minneapolis Institute of Art (artsmia) / Instagram

Art can be a form of protest. No piece of art has exemplified this better than the Minneapolis Institute of Art's recent exhibition, 'When Home Won’t Let You Stay: Art and Migration.' As part of this powerful exhibition, the museum has covered the towering pillars of their main entrance in thousands of life jackets used by refugees on their way to safer shores by sea. The masterpiece displays the gravity of the worldwide refugee crisis, a humanitarian crisis at the heart of the issue, and quantifies it in a way that creates meaning and moves viewers. The exhibition features three distinct pieces of work and is on display from February 23 to May 24, reports.



The life jackets on display are part of renowned contemporary artist Ai Weiwei's exhibition 'Safe Passage,' first piloted in the year 2016. This was the year the refugee crisis had peaked, making headlines across international media outlets. The description of the piece reads, "An internationally recognized artist and activist, Ai Weiwei has used his work to bring increased attention and visibility to human rights issues. Debuting in Berlin, with later iterations in Japan and Chile, 'Safe Passage' marks its United States premiere at Mia. The installation comprises thousands of discarded lifejackets, worn by refugees making the dangerous sea journey from Turkey to Greece, to be installed on Mia’s exterior columns."



As visitors enter the Institute of Art, they will be greeted by life jackets in bright neon colors, displaying to them the urgency of the crisis. Weiwei's moving piece comprises only one part of a three-part exhibition. The other artworks include CarryOn Homes' 'COH Living Room' and Postcommodity's 'Let Us Pray for the Water Between Us.' The former is the masterstroke of five different artists, including Zoe Cinel from Italy, Preston Drum from the USA, Aki Shibata from Japan, Peng Wu from China, and Shun Jie Yong from Malaysia. It is dedicated to "telling the stories of immigrants and refugees in the United States through art." It is, as the description reads, a calm space for immigrants and refugees to "access resources, connect, and have restful and healing conversations."



Meanwhile, 'Let Us Pray for the Water Between Us' features a large chemical storage tank that has been transformed into a self-playing polyrhythmic “host drum.” Developed by artists Cristóbal Martínez and Kade L. Twist, it plays rhythms derived from Dakota songs. The artists worked with members of the local Dakota community in order to identify appropriate ceremonial rhythms. Visitors will have a chance to hear the host drum once they enter the Institute's Bruce B. Dayton Rotunda. Reportedly, the drum's placement "challenges the centrality of venerated objects like Mia’s Doryphoros—considered the ideal human form in ancient Greece—as foundational to the Western art historical canon."



While the refugee crisis may no longer be front-page news, it is still of international importance. Thousands of people are being uprooted from their lives with no place to go because of senseless wars, poverty, gang violence, and political strife. The Minneapolis Institute of Art's exhibition is a reminder to all of the humanitarian crisis that governments and citizens alike have allowed to go on for far too long.



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