by Patrick Yang
people build fences to keep people out and other people build fences to
keep people in."
This is a famous
line from the play 'Fences' (1985) written by August Wilson and more
recently turned into the movie 'Fences' (2016) starring Denzel
Washington and Viola Davis. The story is set in the 1950's where main
character Troy Maxson and his wife Rose are African Americans living in
In one scene,
Troy is working on building a fence around his house when his best
friend Jim says that line to him. There is this duality that must be
addressed where you are not only keeping others from coming in to your
property but you also inadvertently trap those who are within. Both Troy
and his wife Rose are in favor of putting up this wall but seemingly for
different reasons - which is what Jim is pointing out.
strongly debated immigration for as long as anyone can remember.
Immigrants have come to America in search of the freedoms and rights
that are promised to its citizens for almost as long, if not longer,
than the country was established. Fences built are able to serve a dual
purpose of both keeping people out and keeping people in.
The insistent talk of building the wall, one of Donald Trump's most
memorable and decisive talking points, drags back to the forefront of
American politics this conversation regarding equality and rights of
people. Who gets to come into America and who is not allowed? America's
track record with immigration has been spotty at best but that's an
entire history lesson we couldn't possibly get into here.
Ai Weiwei is interested in contributing to this ongoing debate and
recently announced a new installation in New York City titled "Good
Fences Make Good Neighbors", named for the line in the Robert Frost
poem, in collaboration with the Public Art Fund. Opening on October
12th, it was first announced through a New York Times article titled
"Ai Weiwei's Latest Artwork: Building Fences Throughout New York City,"
by Joshua Barone.
The New York
Times article reported that the project "will build more than 100 fences
and installations" around New York City for the installation making it
"one of his most large-scale public art projects to date." There is even
Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds for it all - so you too can
be a backer of Ai's art.
Ai Weiwei (艾未未,
is a world renowned Chinese contemporary artist and has a long history
of activism within China and abroad. In the 1980's Ai lived in the
United States where he studied in New York City's Parsons School of
Design briefly before attending the Art Students League of New York from
1983-1986. He lived in the East Village of Manhattan until 1993 when he
returned to China after his father became ill.
His works often criticize social issues that he sees around the world
and they are meant to try and bring social change, starting with China
but now looking internationally. In recent years Ai's work has focused
on the idea of immigration and questioning why people could possibly be
labeled as "illegal" and treated in such a way.
In 2015 he visited the Greek island of Lesbos where Syrian refugees were
flooding over in boats. This is where the now famous image of a drowned
Syrian infant on the beach was taken and which Ai recreated with his own
body. Through a handfull of gallery and museum shows in the past three
years, he has created works attempting to draw attention and debate
towards the issue of immigration and understanding of the plight of
people who no longer have a home to turn to.
At this years Venice Film Festival he premiered his film "Human Flow"
which he directed and helped produce over the last two years. It is a
mix between a documentary and his personal experience on the road
traveling with refugees from over 23 countries. Ai hopes to get people
to see and hopefully feel the devastation caused to people when they are
displaced from their homes and have nowhere to go due to this issue of
fences, borders, and country jurisdictions.