You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

Is this photo of Ai Wei Wei posing as the drowned Syrian toddler “powerful” or just kind of stupid?

Last week, the Chinese artist and dissident posed for a re-creation of the haunting image of Aylan Kurdi.

The Washington Post called Ai’s photo “a huge artistic tribute.” The co-owner of the India Art Fair, where the photo is exhibited, said “the image is haunting and represents the whole immigration crisis.”

You know what photo is powerful, haunting, and represented the whole immigration crisis? The original photo of Kurdi, which was so arresting that it was on the front pages of over 30 newspapers and was one of Time magazine’s top 100 photos of 2015

Ai’s commitment to helping with the refugee crisis is not in doubt—he recently closed down an exhibit in Denmark to protest a law allowing authorities to seize valuables from refugees, and has been Instagramming pictures from Lesbos. But Ai’s version of the Kurdi photo resembles an exceptionally distasteful iteration of the planking meme, directing more attention to himself than to the crisis.