“Good fences make good neighbours” – Ai Weiwei takes on New York City

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“Good fences make good neighbours.” This line has often cropped up in the realm of international politics. It’s encouraged countries to maintain their wall and their boundaries. In the current political climate with mass movement occurring between countries, can we still use this line?

The phrase was originally coined by 20th Century American poet Robert Frost. In his poem, “Mending Wall”, Frost unpacks human nature’s contradiction to make and break boundaries. It explores themes of human fellowship, a concept that is fast being interrogated by the treatment of refugees in First World countries.

Do good fences make good neighbours?

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has picked up on the irony and has constructed land art around New York City to confront Americans with the same contradiction in fellowship. Weiwei has built 100 different fences around New York which will open officially on October 12, 2017.

This rises against the discourse favoured by Donald Trump, which is one of exclusion and apathy. He turns his back on the thousands of refugees that flock to America in need for aid. Weiwei, who is an activist as well as an artist, protests Trump’s belief of shutting people out of the United States. It also plays off Trump’s promise of “building a wall” between the United States and Mexico.

Despite the world being more connected than before, with the rise of technology, it has become increasingly harder to traverse between places. Ironically, since the fall of the Berlin Wall, 59 countries have erected walls or boundaries. This increase in Nationalism has coupled with a resistance to allowing migration from countries inflicted by war.

Artist Ai Weiwei challenges the norms with his conceptual land art. Credit: Master Works Fine Art.

Artist Ai Weiwei challenges the norms with his conceptual land art. Credit: Master Works Fine Art.

Ai Weiwei’s Artist Statement

“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,” Ai said in a statement. “But what’s important to remember is that while barriers have been used to divide us, as humans we are all the same. Some are more privileged than others, but with that privilege comes a responsibility to do more,” – NY Curbed.

The project has been funded by the Public Art Fund to celebrate the organisation’s 40th anniversary. The artwork is a reminder for humanity to unite and find the spirit of fellowship to help others. Weiwei has struggled to come to terms with his own migrant status, as he has only been in the city for 10 years. Therefore this topic is close to home.

The fences can be seen in locations such as Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn. May they stand as a reminder to the world of values such as unity, fellowship and openness.