Boats evoking refugees hang from Italy palace in Ai Weiwei installation

Thu Sep 22, 2016 3:51am EDT
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By Steve Scherer

FLORENCE, Italy (Reuters) - Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has hung bright orange rubber dinghies from the walls of an elegant Renaissance palace in Florence to draw attention to the plight of refugees, but some complain that the installation ruins the harmony of the city center.

The boats frame the second-floor windows of the Strozzi Palace and are part of Ai's first career-spanning retrospective in Italy, entitled "Libero" (Freedom), which opens on Friday and runs until Jan. 22.

As a symbol the boats resonate in Italy, where migrants arrive almost daily by sea on often flimsy vessels from Africa. But the installation has prompted some strong criticism on social media, including from right-wing political parties.

"I never expected that this boat installation would capture people's imaginations so much, and that people would be so critical of it," Ai told reporters on Wednesday.

But he said he welcomed the controversy, adding that he considered refugees his "brothers" and "heroes of our time".

"I have enormous respect for those people who fight for their freedom," he said.

Ai's support for refugees is rooted in his own experiences.

After his father was labeled an enemy of the Chinese state, Ai spent much of his childhood in remote corners of the country in forced internal exile with his family.   Continued...

Twenty two rubber boats hang on the Palazzo Strozzi's facade as part of the installation entitled "Reframe" by the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei in Florence, Italy September 21, 2016.REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi