Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

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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 Arsal Camp in Arsal, Lebanon, a border town that currently hosts an estimated 11000 refugees from Syria alongside Lebanese citizens in dozens of camps. The camps, established in 2012, were found by a recent Human Rights Watch visit to have widespread restrictions on freedom of movement and limited access to education and healthcare. They also found that undocumented residents feared seemingly random arrests during army raids and faced increasing pressure to return to war-torn Syria because of the inhospitable conditions in Arsal.

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: Idomeni Makeshift Camp, Idomeni, Greece

Courtesy of the artist.

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