Broadway & W 31 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 Gaza Strip, home to a population of approximately 1.9 million people, including 1.3 million Palestine refugees. The blockade that Israel has imposed on the land, air, and sea of this region following Hamas’ takeover in 2007 continues to have a devastating effect, creating steady socioeconomic decline and significant unemployment. This has left 80 percent of the population dependent on international assistance, with nearly one million Palestinian refugees relying on United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) food aid. Over half a million Palestine refugees in Gaza live in the eight recognized Palestine refugee camps, creating one of the highest population densities in the world.
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: Gaza Strip
Courtesy of the artist.