The Guardian

Ai Weiwei: my art was used to sell cars – but I’m fighting back

An advert for Volkswagens that featured my artwork about refugees illustrates corporations’ focus on profit over people
Soleil Levant, made from more than 3,500 lifejackets worn by refugees, at Copenhagen’s Kunsthal Charlottenborg. Photograph: David Stjernholm/Image courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio.

In October 2017 I was astonished when Michael Thouber, the director of Copenhagen’s Kunsthal Charlottenborg, informed me that my artwork Soleil Levant had been used in an advertisement for the new Volkswagen Polo. Soleil Levant is an installation comprising 3,500 lifejackets worn by refugees undertaking perilous sea journeys to reach safety in Europe. Many refugees survived due to these lifejackets; some perished. Some lifejackets were fake, and those wearing them could have drowned.

I created Soleil Levant especially for World Refugee Day in 2017. It was exhibited on Kunsthal Charlottenborg’s external facade from 20

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