Chinese artist Ai Weiwei imitating the lifeless body of Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi on the Greek Island of Lesbos. (Rohit Chawla for India Today)

NEW DELHI -- The heartbreaking image of a dead 3-year old Syrian refugee who was drowned in the Mediterranean sea last year just got a huge artistic tribute.

Last week, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei closed his eyes and lay face down on a cold, pebbled beach  imitating the lifeless body of the Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi.

That photograph of Ai captured by India Today magazine on the Greek island of Lesbos is now the toast of the India Art Fair at an exhibition called “The Artists” this weekend. The exhibition was mounted by news magazine here.

The sister of a Syrian refugee who lost his family on a smuggling boat accident says she blames the Canadian government for the deaths. Teema Kurdi had applied to sponsor the family's entry into Canada, but was denied because of paperwork. (AP)

Ai and his team "actively helped in staging this photograph for us," said Rohit Chawla,  a photographer at India Today, who traveled to Lesbos, where Ai is currently working on an art project on refugees.

“I am sure it wasn’t very comfortable to lie down on the pebbles like that. But the soft evening light fell on his face when he lay down,” Chawla recalled.

A huge number of art lovers and gallery owners are now lining up in front of the black and white photograph at the art fair, organizers said.

“It is an iconic image because it is very political, human and involves an incredibly important artist like Ai Weiwei,” said Sandy Angus, co-owner of India Art Fair. “The image is haunting and represents the whole immigration crisis and the hopelessness of the people who have tried to escape their pasts for a better future.”

The photograph will run next week along with Ai’s interview in India Today.

“When I said to him, 'I will meet you at your studio,' Ai Weiwei answered, “the seashore is my studio,” said Gayatri Jayaraman, the magazine senior editor who interviewed him.

Jayaraman said Ai stood on the seashore waiting for the boats filled with refugees and assisted them as they get off. He was collecting rubber pieces of the boats for an art installation project.

 “He is such a great artist, but to me he also appeared to be a Mahatma Gandhi-like figure,” Jayaraman said. “He is very warm and humble, but his very presence there in that situation as tired, cold, wet refugees arrived was colossal. And very political.”