Park Ave btw E 83 & 84 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 Idomeni makeshift camp on the Greek-Macedonian border, which was Greece’s largest unofficial camp. It sprung up in 2014 at an informal pedestrian border crossing for refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, and other nations heading north to Europe on the so-called "Balkan route." While the resident population of this village was originally only 140 people, after Macedonia closed its border to immigrants in March 2016, the camp was populated by more than 14,000 refugees at its peak. In late May 2016, the camp was evacuated and the refugees were relocated to other camps.
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.