Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

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W 116 St btw Adam C Powell Jr Blvd & Lenox Ave

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 banner depicts Joseph Conrad (1857-1924, b. Berdychiv, Ukraine), an early modernist novelist, and author of “The Heart of Darkness” – a novella with themes of imperialism and racism set on the Congo River. Conrad was an advocate for Polish independence, and was exiled as a child because of his father’s involvement in the November Rebellion against the Russian Empire. As an adult, he chose to leave Russia and gained citizenship in England, where he turned his attention to themes of colonialism.

Photographer: George Charles Beresford, Date: ca. 1904, Copyright: Public Domain

Courtesy of the artist.

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