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Why Sculptures of Fences, Cages, and Walls Are Popping Up All Over New York City

People walk by "Arch," by Chinese activist artist Ai Weiwei, inside the Washington Square Arch, in New York's Greenwich Village, part of his "Good Fences Make Good Neighbors" installations, Oct. 10, 2017.
Richard Drew/AP

Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei has never been afraid to take his artwork out of the museums and into the streets. 

He filled a pond in Vienna and a plaza in Berlin with lifejackets to protest the refugee crisis, installed a rainbow dragon and lego models of prisoners in Alcatraz, and even recorded a music video spoof of the popular K-pop hit “Gangnam Style” in protest of Chinese government repression.  

Now, he’s fencing off parts of the city of New York, literally, to draw out an important political statement about the ongoing refugee crisis and the US response to it.

Take Action: Refugee? Migrant? Human Being. Show Your Support for Refugees. 

The artist’s newly-unveiled installations are currently in just a few locations, but will soon spread to more than 300 spots across the city’s five boroughs, according to a crowdfunding page set up by Weiwei and the Public Art Fund. The city-wide exhibition, called “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors,” will be up until early February. 

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One of these sculptures, in Washington Square Park, is erected directly under the park’s stone arch, and from afar the artwork depicts the silhouette of a pair of refugees huddled together under the structure, presumably to find shelter. Another, in Central Park, is a 40-foot-tall golden cage that the artist erected, purportedly, to capture the attention of US President Donald Trump, who, Weiwei says, “likes gold.” 

Several bus shelters in the city’s outer boroughs show images of refugees that Weiwei met while filming his documentary on refugees, “Human Flow,” which is set to be released this weekend in New York and in other locations across the country in the coming weeks. 

“Fences or territories always relate to us and our attitude towards others,” Weiwei said at a press conference in Central Park. “In the US, there are policies to limit refugees and trying to push away people who made a great contribution to society, trying to build a wall between US and Mexico, which is an unthinkable policy.”

Read More: Meet Max Frieder, a Global Citizen of America Who’s Bringing Art to Conflict Zones

The 60-year-old artist, who was at one time imprisoned by the Chinese state for his political activities, has spent much of the past several years advocating for refugees. For his documentary, he visited over 40 refugee camps in 23 countries and filmed more than 900 hours of footage. 

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“The purpose [of the film] is to show it to people of influence; people who are in a position to help and who have a responsibility to help,” he told the Guardian. “The refugees who need help – they don’t need to see the film. They need dry shoes. They need soup.”

Weiwei is not the only public artist to take a strong stance on the refugee crisis, which affects an estimated 65 million people around the world — including internally displaced persons. 

London-based street artist Banksy has also taken a strong stance on Europe’s response to the refugee crisis on several occasions

Read More: Banksy’s New Project Is a Bed and Breakfast in the West Bank

Global Citizen campaigns to provide emergency education to vulnerable populations, such as refugees. You can take action here

As for Weiwei, who is originally from China, his installation aims to show both the current and historical futility of walls and borders at preventing human flows.  

“Any kind of wall is ridiculous,” he said, “even with the Great Wall of China, it never really worked.”