The unspeakably upsetting image of the three-year-old Syrian boy Alan Kurdi lying dead on a Turkish beach inspired a number of visual or artistic responses after it went disturbingly viral in 2015. Among the most high-profile, and certainly among the most provocative, was Ai Weiwei’s. The exiled Chinese artist recreated the scene for his own black-and-white photograph, in which he lies face down in the sand instead of Alan, who drowned after the boat meant to transport him and his family to Greece was overturned by a wave.
Ai has also confronted the question of refugees in such memorable large-scale artworks as Sunflower Seeds, Fairytale, and, at the 2018 Sydney Biennale, Law of the Journey. But this new documentary is surely the culmination of Ai’s preoccupation with the plight of refugees in the twenty-first century.