ODYSSEY depicts the journey undertaken by refugees fleeing their homelands. This flight is shown in a series of animated scenes: fleeing bombardment, trekking across inhospitable terrain, attempting treacherous sea crossings. Alongside these animations are portraits of contemporary and historical refugees, each one displaced from their homes and seeking safety and shelter elsewhere.
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The refugee crisis is a human crisis.
- Ai Weiwei, Chinese artist (b. 1957)
*Images used in Banners includes historic images by Augustus Sherman (1892–1925)
[Part of the exhibition “Good fences make good neighbors”, NYC]. Since the 19th century, successive waves of immigrants have settled on the Lower East Side. Many who landed at Ellis Island made it their home. Throughout the city, lamppost banners portray those arrivals, as well as notable exiles and contemporary refugees. Works that combine images and texts about the conditions and experiences of refugees replace bus shelter advertisements. Also in this historic neighborhood, a narrative series at Essex Street Market depicts refugees’ epic journeys, while fence installations at 189 Chrystie Street and 248 Bowery appear unexpectedly, spanning rooftops between buildings. 7th Street Fence is located on 48 East 7th Street in the East Village, the same street where, in the 1980s, Ai Weiwei lived in a basement apartment when he was a student and immigrant. This fence fills the space between two buildings.
“In the last year, I have been producing a documentary on the refugee crisis. I have traveled to over ten different countries across several continents, having visited dozens of refugee camps. I have interviewed refugees and others involved, such as local politicians and NGOs. The refugee crisis has a much broader context. There are different histories, regional and religious conflicts, economic pressures, and environmental crises that have contributed to what we understand to be the refugee crisis. My team and I studied this, beginning with the earliest human movements, stretching back to the Old Testament. With the wallpaper, specifically, we tried to come up with a visual language directly inspired by drawings found in early Greek and Egyptian carvings, pottery, and wall paintings. Within that context, we integrated the new conflicts, with images found on social media and the internet, as well as images from my own involvement. Beyond the images, we also examined literature and the political conditions of the various periods. It took more than half a year to finish the drawing and it relates to six themes: war, the ruins resulting from war, the journey undertaken by the refugees, the crossing of the sea, the refugee camps, and the demonstrations and protests.” – Ai Weiwei, December 2016