Monday February 08, 2016

In defense of Ai Weiwei's drowned Syrian boy photo

In a controversial portrait, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has recreated the game-changing photo of drowned Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi.

In a controversial portrait, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has recreated the game-changing photo of drowned Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi. (Rohit Chawla/India Today)

Listen 18:07

Last fall, a photograph of Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi — who drowned while fleeing Turkey and washed up on the Greek island of Lesbos — shocked the world and sparked a movement to bring tens of thousands of refugees to Canada.

Now one of the most famous artists in the world has posed in an image that is drawing both praise and outrage. The photograph, shot by India Today photographer Rohit Chawla, features Chinese artist Ai Weiwei on the same island, but with his face turned toward the camera's lens. 

q's visual art correspondent RM Vaughan joins guest host Gill Deacon to discuss reaction to the controversial recreation, its place in the artist's wider efforts, and what the follow-up says about how quickly "we react and then forget" striking images.

Vaughan also offers his own nuanced take, arguing that the work shouldn't be read as strictly a charity piece. 

"We no longer give anyone the benefit of the doubt," says Vaughan.

q: Does the photograph drawn you in or turn you off? Do you see it as a powerful image that draws attention to an important issue, or a tasteless publicity stunt?