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Ai Weiwei fences

Ai Weiwei to build 100 fences for an exhibit on immigration

The dissident artist is staging his largest project yet in New York, commenting on the immigrant experience

At a time when the political sphere is targeting immigrants with the travel ban and doing little to address the worldwide refugee crisis, news has been shared that artist and activist Ai Weiwei will bring a project commenting on the exclusion of migrants and refugees to New York.

Good Fences Make Good Neighbours is Ai’s largest project to date: the installation will see more than 100 fences built in the city, commissioned for the 40th anniversary of the Public Art Fund. There will be around 10 bigger installations following the fence theme, with many more smaller pieces spread across Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and elsewhere. The title is a reference to “Mending Wall”, a poem by Robert Frost which includes the line. Ai said the huge installation will be a comment on “the retreat from the essential attitude of openness” seen in the current political climate.

The artist told Art Fix Daily: “I was an immigrant in New York in the 1980s for ten years and the issue with the migration crisis has been a longtime focus of my practice. The fence has always been a tool in the vocabulary of political landscaping and evokes associations with words like ‘border,’ ‘security,’ and ‘neighbour,’ which are connected to the current global political environment.”

“But what’s important to remember is that while barriers have been used to divide us, as humans we are all the same. Some are more privileged than others, but with that privilege comes a responsibility to do more.”

“When the Berlin Wall fell, there were 11 countries with border fences and walls,” Ai told the New York Times. “By 2016, that number had increased to 70. We are witnessing a rise in nationalism, an increase in the closure of borders, and an exclusionary attitude towards migrants and refugees, the victims of war and the casualties of globalisation.”

“Ai Weiwei pours his heart and soul into art that asks big questions and is not constrained by artistic and social traditions,” Chirlane McCray, New York’s first lady, said in a statement. “With Good Fences Make Good Neighbours, he challenges us to think about the function and rationale for a common barrier. Given that the immigrant experience is at the core of what binds us as New Yorkers, the exhibition compels us to question the rhetoric and policies that seek to divide us.”

Recently, the artist unveiled a giant installation at the National Gallery in Prague that challenges “shameful” politicians there who he believes have not done their part in aiding displaced refugees. Law of the Journey features a 70-metre-long inflatable boat sculpture, with 258 oversized figures to represent the thousands who have attempted to cross the Mediterranean.

Good Fences make Good Neighbours will open October 12 2017.