10 of Ai Weiwei’s Most Powerful Instagrams from Lesbos

The Chinese artist is documenting the arrival of refugees on the Greek Island.

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 4.19.03 PM
Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 4.19.03 PM

A woman sits on a pile of lifejackets in the sand, balancing a baby on her legs. Her blank eyes seem to see nothing in front of her -- not the two small children circling her, and not even the sea that she just crossed in a rickety boat.

This is just one of the more than 100 images that Ai Weiwei, the Chinese artist and outspoken critic of his Communist government, has posted so far from the Greek island of Lesbos. He has spent the last month there Instagramming the boatloads of refugees who arrive there each day.

This week, Ai was photographed posing in the same position as Alan Kurdi, the 3-year-old Syrian boy who temporarily grasped the world’s attention when he washed up dead on a Turkish beach last September.

A woman sits on a pile of lifejackets in the sand, balancing a baby on her legs. Her blank eyes seem to see nothing in front of her — not the two small children circling her, and not even the sea that she just crossed in a rickety boat.

This is just one of the more than 100 images that Ai Weiwei, the Chinese artist and outspoken critic of his Communist government, has posted so far from the Greek island of Lesbos. He has spent the last month there Instagramming the boatloads of refugees who arrive there each day.

This week, Ai was photographed posing in the same position as Alan Kurdi, the 3-year-old Syrian boy who temporarily grasped the world’s attention when he washed up dead on a Turkish beach last September.

Perhaps the most powerful aspect of the photos he’s posted to his public account is the dazed look on the faces of refugees who survived an arduous journey that killed more than 240 people in January alone — the highest death toll on record in Europe’s ongoing refugee crisis.

Ai set up a studio on Lesbos to raise awareness about refugees’ struggles through a series of art projects. “As an artist, I have to relate to humanity’s struggles … I never separate these situations from my art,” he told reporters in early January.
Below are ten of the most powerful posts to his Instagram account so far:

Images: Ai Weiwei/Instagram

Megan Alpert is a fellow at Foreign Policy. Her previous bylines have included The Guardian, Guernica Daily, and Earth Island Journal. Twitter: @megan_alpert

More from Foreign Policy

A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.
A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.

Lessons for the Next War

Twelve experts weigh in on how to prevent, deter, and—if necessary—fight the next conflict.

An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

It’s High Time to Prepare for Russia’s Collapse

Not planning for the possibility of disintegration betrays a dangerous lack of imagination.

An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.
An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.

Turkey Is Sending Cold War-Era Cluster Bombs to Ukraine

The artillery-fired cluster munitions could be lethal to Russian troops—and Ukrainian civilians.

A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol  January 8, 2009 in Washington.
A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol January 8, 2009 in Washington.

Congrats, You’re a Member of Congress. Now Listen Up.

Some brief foreign-policy advice for the newest members of the U.S. legislature.