"It's about 65 million people [who] lost their homes," said Ai Weiwei. "It's biggest number since the World War II, and it keep growing. And I think the powerful nation has the responsibility to defend those human conditions."
Taken together, the installations address growing hostility towards immigrants, the rise of nationalism throughout the world, and the growing refugee crisis. The project is installed on both public and private sites, as well as on bus shelters in Downtown Brooklyn, Harlem, and The Bronx.
Ai’s work first shifted to activism after he witnessed the devastating effects of the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake, and the 5,000 “nameless” schoolchildren who died inside a shoddily-made building. Wanting more information than the government was willing to provide, he traveled to the disaster zone to document its human and structural tragedies. This, unsurprisingly, made him an enemy of the state—and from 2011 through 2015 he was kept under house arrest, detained, imprisoned, and subjected to physical as well as emotional torture.
Presented by public art fund and developed in close collaboration with its curatorial team, the exhibition features a range of components at varying scales, intended to spread a political message across the boroughs of New York City.
“When I left New York in the '80s as a student, I had nothing — I could have never dreamed of this project,” according to Ai on the project's Kickstarter page. “All these years later, the show is like a love letter to the city and its people.”