Art And Culture

Europe’s Migrant Crisis in Art Show

Europe’s Migrant Crisis in Art ShowEurope’s Migrant Crisis in Art Show

Liu Xiaodong, the acclaimed Chinese contemporary artist, has put Europe’s migrant crisis at the center of an exhibition of new work on show from Friday in Florence, Italy.

Entitled “Migrazioni” (Migrations), the collection features a total of 182 multi-themed works including paintings, photography, photo-painting, explanatory text and a video documentary.

It is being billed by its sponsors, Florence’s innovative Palazzo Strozzi Foundation, as one of the art world’s most significant responses to date to the unprecedented wave of refugees arriving on Europe’s southern shores.

The exhibition is due to run until June 19 in the Tuscan capital’s Palazzo Strozzi, just a short bus ride away from Prato, the Florence suburb that is now home to one of the biggest Chinese communities in Europe.

What began as an invitation to Liu to spend time in the region examining the relationship between Prato’s Chinese population and broader Tuscan society evolved into something much larger when the artist decided to see for himself the journeys being made by Syrian refugees trying to reach northern Europe via Turkey, Greece and the Balkans.

 Two Extremes

The result is a thought-provoking collection that is partly an illustrated diary of the artist’s trips from Florence to the frontline of the migrant crisis, and partly a reflection on the nature of migration itself, seen through the twin optics of Prato’s Chinatown and the timeless beauty of Tuscany’s undulating, cypress-dotted countryside.

“There are two extremes of migration converging on Europe at the moment,” Liu told AFP in an interview on the eve of the exhibition opening.

“In Prato there is this very quiet, not very visible presence. And then there is this immigration that we hear about every day, of people fleeing from war. And I wanted to bring these two ideas together in one exhibition.”

Among the most striking works in the collection is a huge painting of a classic Tuscan landscape seen from the edge of a swimming pool tastefully cut into the hillside.

In the foreground, two hunting dogs look on languidly, as a partly deflated piece of a black rubber dinghy bobs incongruously in the water, like the last remnant of a migrant boat sinking.

“For people in so many parts of the world, Europe is like a promised land,” Liu explains. And this image of the deflating dinghy was a way of injecting the problems and the unresolved questions that migration brings into a paradisical, idyllic setting.