7 Ave btw W 110 & 111 St
Ai Weiwei’s citywide exhibition uses existing elements of urban infrastructure as platforms for public art. Lamppost banners display a series of 200 portraits of immigrants and refugees. Unlike typical printed advertisements, the artist created unique double-sided banner portraits by cutting black vinyl to make images appear in the portions that remain. Their play of positive and negative space is analogous to the often-ambiguous status of refugees and migrants. The series encompasses many groups by spanning several periods and locales. It includes historic images from Ellis Island, photographs of notable refugees, formal portraits by Ai Weiwei’s studio from the Shariya camp in Iraq, and the artist’s cell phone photographs taken at refugee camps and national borders around the world. The banners portray people from varied backgrounds, yet each is presented in a consistent format, emphasizing their shared humanity.
This portrait depicts a refugee residing in Tempelhof Airport in Berlin, Germany. This airport was rebuilt and expanded by the Nazis during the Third Reich, has been used since October 2015 as a massive refugee camp with capacity for 7,000. At its peak it housed 2,500 refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Former Yugoslavia while they waited for more permanent housing and integration into European society -- a process that theoretically should only take six weeks, but often takes longer.
Ai and his team’s extensive research and visits to refugee camps and national borders around the world have yielded an enormous trove of compelling documentation. Much of this is produced by the artist’s nearly constant use of his cell phone to spontaneously photograph the people and scenes around him.
Location: Tempelhof Airport, Berlin, Germany.
Courtesy of the artist.