Thu, Oct 12, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Ai Weiwei honors pro-migrant New York through art


People look at Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s installation Good Fences Make Good Neighbors at a media preview on Tuesday under the Washington Square Arch in Washington Square Park, New York City.

Photo: AFP

He has worked his way through refugee camps, capturing the stories of migrants across the world. Now celebrated Chinese artist Ai Weiwei (艾未未) has brought the fruits of his labor to New York, scattering more than 300 works across the metropolis.

Ai’s most ambitious outdoor project to date, Good Fences Make Good Neighbors — which takes its name from a line in a poem by Robert Frost — formally opened yesterday and will run until the middle of February next year.

It is a love letter of sorts to a city the artist, 60, called home from 1983 to 1993, and a new illustration of his empathy for refugees worldwide — stemming from his own experience of being exiled after his father, a poet, was branded an enemy China.

“I need to pay back my love,” Ai said at a media conference in Central Park, honoring “a city [where] every young artist wants to be,” where “you never feel you are a foreigner.”

However, the location of one of his large-scale works — a Gilded Cage installed at the southeast entrance of Central Park — is by no means a coincidence.

Visible from the heights of Trump Tower, where US President Donald Trump famously maintains a golden apartment, Ai said he “made it gold to please” the president, of whom he is a staunch critic.

“The travel ban, the wall to be built between the US and Mexico, which is unthinkable policy: We are living at a time when there is no tolerance, divided — they are trying to separate us by color, race, religion nationality,” said Ai, who now lives in Berlin and Beijing.

Ai’s citywide exhibition is a gesture welcomed by New York, something of a sanctuary in the midst of the Trump administration’s anti-immigration agenda.

“New York City is the perfect canvas for Ai Weiwei’s work,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement, adding his pieces “challenge us and can bring about social progress.”

The project — organized by the New York-based Public Art Fund — “draws attention to the unprecedented divisions in our political system and confronts xenophobia,” de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, said.

Ai’s works, intertwined with the urban landscape, can be found in Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island.

They range from monumental structures to 200 unique banners attached to lampposts in all five boroughs, and images of refugees displayed in spaces usually reserved for advertising.

Another cage — this time silver, arched and about 12m tall — is located under the arch of Washington Square Park, a place with personal ties to Ai’s time living in New York.

Like the golden cage, which you can enter, a mirrored passage running underneath the arch represents an interactive element found in each of the exhibition’s cages and gratings — all re-imaginings of the ominous security fence.

As for China and its government, Ai, whose passport was seized until 2015, no longer seems to prioritize targeting them.

“More and more I realize that human rights is general, not only in China but everywhere,” he said. “We always have to see humanity as one ... we are all connected.”

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