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Fences 

 

 

 


 

by Patrick Yang 

September 2017

"Sometimes 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 Pittsburgh.

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.

America has 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.

Chinese artist 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 a 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, aiweiwei.com) 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. 

 

 

 



 

   
 

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