Chinese artist creates structures around New York to highlight immigration crisis

Chinese artist and human rights activist Ai Wewei has created "Good Fences Make Good Neighbours", a multimedia exhibition exploring the use of borders and security fences which will take place around New York.

The project features temporary large-scale, sculptural installations, such as a freestanding golden cage located in Central Park, which will introduce bars and turnstiles to one of the most visited areas of the city.

Fences or territories always relate to us and our attitude towards others– Ai Wewei

Ai commented on the colour of the Gilded Cage and its relation to the nearby Trump Tower by saying: "I know our president likes gold, so this is really for his appreciation."

The installation will allow viewers to walk into and around the sculpture, inviting them to interact with the work.

Arch, Washington Square Arch

Another structure called the Circle Fence will be placed in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens, comprising a low perimeter around the symbolic structure.

Located at the Unisphere, host to the World’s Fair in 1939 and 1964, the installation aims to "emphasise the Unisphere’s form and symbolic meaning, engaging with the steel representation of the Earth by surrounding it with mesh netting strung around metal stanchion barriers". 

Other parts of the exhibition include bus stops being surrounded by mesh, public projections of refugees filmed by the artist and the repurposing of advertising space to show illustrated Greek-style friezes, depicting forms of the global refugee crisis.

The artist and his team worked with charity The Public Art Fund, who partnered with firms such as JCDecaux and Aecom.

Arch, Washington Square Arch

Despite the fact that a successful Kickstarter campaign funded the project, some locals dislike the exhibition.

An open letter to the Public Art Fund concerning an installation in Manhattan’s Washington Square Park said there was "no community input on the project", and complained that it would block off the arch and public space for four months and would lead to the cancellation of an annual tree lighting ceremony that has taken place for the past 94 years.

Ai grew up amid the upheavals of the Cultural Revolution, where his family were exiled to Shihezi in the far western Xinjiang Province. His father, a renowned poet who had been branded an enemy of the state, was made to clean the village’s communal toilets.

Circle Fence

He was arrested in 2011 after falling foul of the Chinese government when he tried to document the names of students killed in substandard schools during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

Since the re-instatement of his passport in 2015, Weiwei and his team created the documentary Human Flow after visiting 23 countries and over 40 refugee camps. 

Ai has said about the exhibition: "Fences or territories always relate to us and our attitude towards others. In the US, there are policies to limit refugees and push away people who made a great contribution to society. They are trying to build a wall between US and Mexico, which is an unthinkable policy.

"There is no tolerance; it’s trying to separate us by colour, race, religion and nationality. It’s going backwards against freedom, humanity and our understanding of our time."

Good Fences Make Good Neighbours will run until 11 February 2018.

Images courtesy of the Public Art Fund/Ai Weiwei Studio, top image of Central Park’s Gilded Cage

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