Amsterdam Ave btw W 90 & 91 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 Shatila Refugee Camp in Beirut, Lebanon, which was first established in 1949 for Palestinian refugees, and has grown in size to accommodate approximately 22,000 Palestinian and Syrian refugees. The increasingly high number of refugees and the strain it causes on Lebanon’s weak political system has been exacerbated by the eruption of the Syrian Civil War, and is often used by politicians as a scapegoat for the nation’s rolling blackouts and rubbish crisis, or when infrastructure projects fail.
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.
Shatila Camp, Beirut, Lebanon
Courtesy of the artist.