Grand Concourse btw E 165 & 166 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 Syrian-Jordanian Border, where nearly 6000 Syrian refugees have encamped in the middle of the desert – hundreds of miles from the nearest city – in what has become one of the biggest and most desperate refugee settlements in the region. Although few humanitarian aid groups have been able to gain direct access to the three-year-old camp, they track its growth by analyzing satellite images, which show thousands of makeshift tents clustered between two berms — earthen embankments in a no-man's land along Jordan's far northeastern border. Jordan claims that the camp is infiltrated by ISIS and refuses to allow any aid workers to enter. With limited food or resources reaching the camp, the children among its population are in danger of starving. Jordan has always restricted access to the refugees at Rukban, but after a suicide car bomb at a checkpoint killed seven Jordanian border guards last June, it sealed the border with Syria entirely.
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: Syrian-Jordanian Border
Courtesy of the artist.