E 56 St btw 5 Ave & Madison
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.
Ai created this portrait from a suite of images by Augustus Sherman, an amateur photographer and Bureau of Immigration clerk at Ellis Island. Sherman was interested in the diverse origins of the individuals he processed, so he took it upon himself to make photographic portraits of them. He used a large box camera with long exposures to document these recently arrived immigrants to the United States’ main port of immigration at the time, which processed nearly 12 million newcomers between 1892-1954.
Source Image: Augustus Sherman, Algerian Man, ca. 1905-1914.
Courtesy of the artist.