Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

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7th Av btw W 120 & W 121st 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 from the Ein El Hilweh Camp in Sidon, Lebanon, which is the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon. Established in 1948, it has far outgrown its original capacity of 10,000 to house nearly 61,000 Palestinians and approximately 10,000 to 60,000 Syrians since 2011. The camp’s residents mainly work as labourers nearby, but this labor and its demands on young inhabitants to help support their families have resulted in high dropout rates in schools. The increasingly high number of refugees and the strain it causes on Lebanon’s weak political system has been exacerbated by the eruption of the Syrian Civil War, and is often used by politicians as a scapegoat for the nation’s rolling blackouts and rubbish crisis, or when infrastructure projects fail.

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: Ain al Hilweh Camp, Sidon, Lebanon.

Courtesy of the artist.

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