Ai Weiwei’s grand-scale portraits support refugees

Inspired by the migrants of Ellis Island, Ai Weiwei’s arresting artworks raise money for the IRC, UNHCR and Public Art Fund

Ai Weiwei with portraits from his Good Fences Make Good Neighbours exhibition
Ai Weiwei with portraits from his Good Fences Make Good Neighbours exhibition

If you found yourself in New York City over the winter, chances are you spotted arresting portraits of refugees towering over the streets on giant banner ads. They were part of Ai Weiwei’s exhibition for the Public Art Fund, Good Fences Make Good Neighbours, touching on the global migration crisis. The extraordinary images, depicting over 300 of the displaced people he encountered in aid camps worldwide, reinterpreted the historic mugshots taken of migrants arriving in the US at Ellis Island and were laser cut from industrial black vinyl as standard lamppost ads.

On World Refugee Day on June 20, a series of six banners selected from Good Fences Make Good Neighbours will be released for sale on eBay as a limited edition of 500. All proceeds will go to the Public Art Fund to provide free access to contemporary art of international interest to a public urban audience, with a percentage going to the UN High Commission for Refugees and the International Rescue Committee, which provides shelter, healthcare and education to migrants, refugees and asylum seekers around the world.

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“These works are directly related to the history of human migration and aim to raise awareness of the humanitarian crisis happening today,” says Ai Weiwei.

The portraits, which can be hung indoors, framed or installed as banners, are available until June 27 at ebay.com/aiweiwei. Bought individually ($750) or as a series of six ($4,500), they enable collectors to bring part of the Good Fences Make Good Neighbours exhibition into their homes and support the cause of those fleeing war, disasters and persecution.

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