The Chinese activist artist Ai Weiwei will build dozens of fences in New York for an exhibition opening in October that focuses on walls that divide people and mark borders.
A champion of refugees and migrants, Ai is calling his new large-scale conceptual installation “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors.”
He took the title from the final line in “Mending Wall,” a poem by the 20th-century US poet Robert Frost that reflects on a wall between neighbors.
The artist says he is dismayed by President Donald Trump’s policies, including his promise to build a wall along the US southern border with Mexico to keep out undocumented immigrants, along with his attempt to bar entry to the United States by some Muslim-majority citizens.
He intends to transform the metal wire security fence into an artistic symbol in various sites in the New York, a gateway to the United States.
An outspoken critic of the Chinese government, Ai was detained in 2011 for 81 days and had his passport confiscated for four years.
Ai, who now lives in Berlin, was an immigrant in New York from 1983 to 1993.
“The issue with the migration crisis has been a longtime focus of my practice,” the political activist said in a statement issued by the Public Art Fund, the New York exhibition’s sponsor.
“The fence has always been a tool in the vocabulary of political landscaping and evokes associations with words like ‘border,’ ‘security,’ and ‘neighbor,’ which are connected to the current global political environment,” he said.
“But what’s important to remember is that while barriers have been used to divide us, as humans we are all the same.”
“‘Good Fences Make Good Neighbors’ will be Ai Weiwei’s largest and most ambitious public art exhibition to date,” the Public Art Fund said.
The 59-year-old painter, sculptor, photographer and filmmaker is known for art that confronts social and political issues.
He launched an exhibition in Prague less than two weeks ago titled “Law of the Journey,” featuring a 70-meter-long (230-foot-long) inflatable boat with 258 oversize refugee figures.
The work shines a spotlight on the global refugee humanitarian crisis.
Ai also wrapped the pillars of the landmark Konzerthaus in Berlin with 14,000 salvaged lifejackets recovered on the Greek island of Lesbos, a key entry point to Europe for Syrian refugees.
In the New York exhibition, his walls will be installed in iconic locations such as the Doris C. Freedman Plaza in Central Park and The Cooper Union college in the East Village, while some will be put up at bus shelters.
The installations will be on view from October 12 to February 11, 2018.
The Public Art Fund, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, is a nonprofit organization that presents the work of contemporary artists in New York’s public spaces.