Ai Weiwei unveils giant iron tree to warn people what they risk losing

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei poses for a portrait in front of his new work titled Pequi Tree, a 32-metre-high iron tree displayed at the park of the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art as part of his exhibition Intertwine in Porto, Portugal, on July 22, 2021.
PHOTO: Reuters

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PORTO, Portugal - Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei unveiled a 32-metre-tall (105 ft) tropical tree made of iron in the Portuguese city of Porto on Thursday (July 22), an artwork he hopes will raise awareness of the devastating consequences of deforestation.

Four years ago, Ai was in Brazil to investigate the threats faced by its forests when he stumbled upon an endangered ancient tree of the Caryocar genus in the northeastern Atlantic forest.

Using scaffolding, a team moulded the tree and shipped the mould to China, where it was cast before being sent to Portugal, Ai's new home, to be assembled and exhibited for the first time.

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei poses for a portrait in front of his new work titled Pequi Tree, a 32-metre-high iron tree displayed at the park of the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art as part of his exhibition Intertwine in Porto, Portugal, on July 22, 2021.
PHOTO: Reuters

The exhibition, which also includes installations composed of iron tree roots, is taking place at Porto's Serralves museum and park, and will be open to visitors until next year.

"People should look at these works and think of what we could lose in the future," Ai, 63, told Reuters by telephone. "It's... a warning about what we are going to lose if we don't act."

Ai's tree stands leafless, has a hollow trunk and the iron looks rusty, reminding visitors of the environmental threats facing the planet.

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei poses for a portrait in front of his new work titled Pequi Tree, a 32-metre-high iron tree displayed at the park of the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art as part of his exhibition Intertwine in Porto, Portugal, on July 22, 2021.
PHOTO: Reuters

In Brazil's Amazon, deforestation has surged since right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro took office in 2019. 

Bolsonaro has called for mining and agriculture in protected areas of the Amazon and weakened environmental agencies.

"Brazil has a clear policy which sacrifices their best resource: their rainforest, their nature," Ai said. "And that's not just Brazil's best resource...it's planet earth's best resource."

A visitor takes a photograph of a sculpture by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei during a presentation of his new exhibition Intertwine in Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art in Porto, Portugal, on July 22, 2021.

Scientists say protection of the Amazon is vital to curbing climate change because of the vast amount of greenhouse gas its rainforest absorbs.

"The problem is that we never learn from our mistakes... we never really learn a lesson," Ai said, urging the world to prepare for "even bigger" environmental disasters.