Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

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Washington Pl & Greene 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 banner depicts Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996, b. St. Petersburg, Russia), a poet who was convicted of “social parasitism” by the Soviet authorities as a formal charge for their anti-Semitism and for fear of his politically charged poetry, sentencing him to hard labor. Despite mass protests in support of the author, the government continued to persecute him and eventually forced him into exile in 1972. Shortly thereafter, he moved to the United States, never to return to his home country.

Photographer: Unknown, Date: 1972-1973, Copyright: Public Domain, Michiganesian, 1973 University of Michigan yearbook

Courtesy of the artist.

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