By Stanley Wlodyka
The larger-than-life silver birdcage would block the path through the Washington Square Arch if not for the two refugees cut out from the frame.
It’s no wonder that Chinese artist Ai Weiwei made the Washington Square Arch—an iconic symbol of New York City—a centerpiece of his Good Fences Make Good Neighbors installation project, which comments on U.S. immigration policy. In conjunction with the Public Art Fund, Mr. Weiwei set up over 300 installations throughout the five boroughs.
This installation was the perfect opportunity to broach a subject that was complicated, surrounded by an almost tabloid-like fervor, and, as it soon became evident, one that people had spent a good amount of time thinking about.
Tess, a recent graduate from the New School who was creating a film with her colleagues that day, gushed about the diversity she saw everywhere around her. “Immigrant culture is something that is so prominent in our country, especially in lower New York. The history of immigration here and how rich it has made this part of the City is a really valuable thing.”
Michelle and Matthew from the Financial District don’t have much of a problem with the hoopla surrounding the Muslim Ban and the wall. They take solace in red tape. “You don’t want government to be too efficient, because if [it is] you really can have [the] rise of a [dictator]. In our system, that is largely mitigated because 50% of it doesn’t work. You can’t pull consensus in certain directions. You can’t do those radical things. If people understood that more they would have less fear when some guy comes out and says,
‘I’m going to build a wall.’ That can’t be done.”
Taylor, a balloon artist who services Washington Square Park regularly, disagrees. “The fear mongering is how we ended up in pretty much everywhere after 9/11. My mom was like, don’t talk to anyone! Don’t talk to strangers! Whereas my dad was like, use your mind. If there’s a guy who’s giving you a bad vibe, or he’s creepy, stay away from him, but not everyone is bad.” When asked where on the spectrum President Trump falls, she laughed, “My mom voted for Trump! Definitely more along the lines of my mother than my father.”
Taylor’s cohort and fellow balloon artist, John Murdock (he made sure to disassociate himself from Rupert), deflated the conversation and brought it down to specifics. “We’re shutting down Honduran immigrants for the last six, seven years. The Hondurans are literally being raped and killed at a historic rate. It’s the worst place to be a journalist.”
It is true that Honduras has by far the highest homicide rate per capita in the world. According to the United Nations, one out of every thousandth person is murdered in Honduras. That’s saying something since it only has a population of about 8 million. Many journalists have gone into hiding from fear of retaliation by the drug cartels, which are credited with much of the violence in this Central American country.
The contrast couldn’t be starker in Washington Square Park. On a Sunday afternoon, there are those rain clouds that keep everyone in suspense but never really seem to let loose a shower. In Honduras, at pretty much any time of the year, it may rain for a couple hours, but the tropical sun shines throughout.
You have plenty of time to catch Ai Weiwei’s installation in a cornucopia of climate conditions. It has the place of honor under the Washington Square Arch until February 11, 2018.