Shimon Attie, a visual artist who first made his reputation in the 1990s by projecting slides of scenes from Jewish life in Germany before World War Two onto the sides of buildings in modern Berlin, will be treating Lower Manhattan residents to a silent film about asylum seekers for the next several nights.
The film, entitled “Night Watch,” will be displayed on a large LED screen, mounted atop a barge and towed up the East and Hudson Rivers on alternating nights. It consists of a series of full-motion portraits of 12 people who came to New York fleeing violence and discrimination in their homelands, and are seeking to remain in America as refugees. Each faces first appears onscreen from a distance, and out of focus. But each gradually resolves into a unique human visage, gazing at the viewer with a powerful combination of dignity, pathos, and longing. The exhibit is timed to coincide with this week’s United Nations General Assembly.
“I intend to use the language of contemporary art to create new representations for how we see the other or the outsider,” Mr. Attie explains. “If we go beyond the legal distinctions — between someone who is an immigrant, versus someone who is a refugee, versus someone who is applying to have their asylum application approved, versus someone who’s had their application approved — ultimately we’re talking about the outsider. The person who’s vulnerable and in need of a safe harbor.”
“Night Watch” was produced by Mr. Attie in partnership with More Art, a nonprofit organization that supports collaborations between professional artists and communities to create public art and educational programs that inspire social justice. He was also assisted by a broad range of immigrant’s rights groups, such as Immigration Equality, the Safe Passage Project, RIF Asylum Support, the Organization for Refugee Asylum and Migration, New Women New Yorkers, and New York for Syrian Refugees.
“At a time of social and political turmoil, projects like ‘Night Watch’ bring stark attention to the actual people affected by the knee-jerk decisions of short-sighted politicians,” reflects Micaela Martegani, director and curator for More Art. “By looking into the eyes of individuals whose lives are at stake, we are confronted by a direct and unflinching gaze that should bring us out of our somnambulistic state and spur us to action.”
The barge towing the oversized (12 feet tall, by 20 feet wide) LED screen displaying “Night Watch” will be visible along the Hudson River waterfront of Lower Manhattan (between the Battery and West 23rd Street) tonight (Monday, September 24) and Wednesday (September 26), from 6:00 to 10:00 pm.