Building fences to destroy borders

When art transcends politics

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The sounds of taxis honking and people talking fade into the background as I step in. A reflection of myself in the distorted mirror looks back at me. I walk out and look up, greeted by a gilded cage that fills the space in the famous Washington Square Park arch. I watch as a group of girls giggle and take a selfie inside. If they knew what the installation represented, they would not be laughing.

I am staring at one of artist Ai Weiwei’s citywide installation of cages and walls, running from the Flushing to Harlem under the title “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors.” For the past two years, the globally renowned artist-activist has been traveling to refugee camps in 23 countries, capturing the struggles of millions as they are displaced from their homes and blocked from crossing borders. Especially in this controversial topic, others may have stayed behind the camera. As a refugee himself, Weiwei has put himself right in front, determined to create change.

I visited Weiwei’s art installation and watched his documentary, “Human Flow,” as a field trip for my cluster course, which includes the classes ‘Public Education for Immigrants in New York’ and ‘Ethnicity in US Literature.’ “Human Flow” dives deep into the international refugee crisis. Over 65 million people have been forced from their homes to escape famine, climate change and war in the greatest human displacement since World War II, according to the “Human Flow” website.

Speak up when someone speaks with hate even if silence is your first instinct. If this issue does not rattle you to your core, educate yourself.

Weiwei has captured the immense intensity of the refugee crisis and the powerful human impact across the globe, in countries including Bangladesh, France, Greece, Germany, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Kenya, Mexico and Turkey. From refugee camps to railroad-track tents to dangerous ocean crossings, people are risking their lives for safety and justice. But, they are simply greeted by a barbed-wire border and a guard telling them to go back home, as if home is a place they can go back to instead of the ashes of a house riddled by war. Weiwei’s installations and documentary scream the question that will define our world: “Will our global society emerge from fear, isolation, and selfinterest and choose a path of openness, freedom and respect for humanity?”

This question echoes through our campus as it does through the rest of our nation. Over the past 15 years, thousands of refugees have sought solace in Pennsylvania. If you are lucky enough to wake up each day and know your place in this country is permanent, you must recognize your privilege and utilize it to support those who are not. Call your representatives. Volunteer for the Pennsylvania Refugee Resettlement Program or HIAS Pennsylvania. Speak to the Office of Community Engagement about ways to be an advocate in the Allentown community. Speak up when someone speaks with hate even if silence is your first instinct. If this issue does not rattle you to your core, educate yourself. We all have a responsibility to make sure that when asked if our global society will emerge from fear and choose a path of freedom, the answer bellows, “Yes, yes we will.”

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