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News > U.S.

US Museum Covered With Life Jackets Worn by Refugees

  • Life jackets displayed at the entrance of the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

    Life jackets displayed at the entrance of the Minneapolis Institute of Art. | Photo: Minneapolis Institute of Art/ Facebook

Published 28 February 2020

Part of an art installation created by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, located in the U.S. state with the highest number of refugees.

The neoclassical columns at the entrance to the Minneapolis Institute of Art in Minnesota, United States, are covered by 2,400 life jackets, which were worn by refugees who crossed the Mediterranean, traveling from Turkey to Greece.

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It is an art installation called "Safe Passage" by the renowned Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei. Those life jackets were once discarded, worn by refugees making the journey from Turkey to Greece. They were initially donated to Ai by authorities from Lesbos, Greece. And now, this showcase at the Minneapolis Institute of Art marks its U.S. debut.

The life jackets create an arresting image, grabbing pedestrians' attention regardless of whether they intended to stop at the museum or not. And that's the point, said Gabriel Ritter, curator and head of contemporary art at the museum.

"I hope 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," he added.

Minnesota has the highest number of refugees per capita of any state in the U.S., according to the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota. That's one of the reasons the museum said it wanted to bring the Weiwei's work to Minneapolis.

The "Safe Passage" whose aim is to highlight the dangerous journey migrants made into Europe, debuted for the first time in 2016 in Berlin and the installation has already been carried out in numerous European cities.

In Minnesota, the work shown as part of a more extensive exhibit called "When Home Won't Let You Stay: Art and Migration," a traveling exhibit that comes to the institute from Boston's Institute of Contemporary Art. However, the Weiwei exhibition will be shown separately.

The U.S. debut of the installation comes amidst rising refugee tensions in the country

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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