World-renowned Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei is a giant amongst his peers for creating thought-provoking work that defies the barriers of language. His vast portfolio of work forces viewers to contemplate serious issues around the world. Now, the city of Stockholm has welcomed his 40-foot-tall Arch sculpture, which encourages passersby to draw deeper meaning from its unconventional form.
This sublime structure of solid steel bars is cut out along the bottom to feature the outline of two overlapping figures. The sculpture gleams like a beacon outside the Nationalmuseum Gallery on the Blasieholmen peninsula in Stockholm's archipelago, alerting us to larger issues. It's a work of social significance, and pays homage to refugees in Europe and around the world. Through this public work currently displayed in the Swedish city, Ai calls for the free passage of all populations, and a world without borders.
The Stockholm sculpture is a new version of the piece originally placed in Washington Square Park in New York City in 2017. Ai began the work as a Kickstarter campaign aptly called Good Fences Make Good Neighbors. It was a project that was a perfect vehicle for conversations around the tightening up of the border between Mexico and the United States at the time. Ai has never shied away from speaking out about human rights, and his sculptures, photographs, and public artworks are full of passion, interwoven with his political protest, documentation, and personal poetry. He was arrested in China in 2011 and held for 81 days without charge, and when released, he was detained in China until 2015 for his work and ideas.
Arch is part of a series of cultural events organized by Spotify founder Daniel Ek and entrepreneur Ash Pournori, both founders of Brilliant Minds. Theirs is an organization that helps entrepreneurs with transformative ideas to make a more creative, sustainable, and inclusive world. This sculpture calls to us all to create a society of increased acceptance. Visitors can view it for a year in its current position, before it will permanently be moved to an as yet unnamed location in the city.
The work is elegant and striking, bold in its scope and cage imagery, yet it offers a vulnerable gentleness in the curves of the cut-out figures. The bars bring to mind the scores of displaced refugees across Europe as a result of the war in Ukraine. The figures that hold each other at the centre of the sculpture, cut out of the bars, remind us of the basic values of equality, trust, empathy, and social responsibility for our fellow human beings.
Contemporary artists such as Ai who create on a global scale offer amazing value to the aesthetics and beauty of our world. They expand our ideas around humanity and what our future might look like, if we could only dream it for ourselves. Ai’s message is as large and as beautiful as his sculptural art. When our humanity is intact, there is always hope.
To have a look at more of Ai’s artworks and activism, check out his Instagram account, and to follow his political and social thoughts, you can follow him on Twitter. His documentary films can be viewed on his website.