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Refugee Stories Told from a Barge, Timed for UN General Assembly Session

We talked to Shimon Attie and the subjects of his project about the state of political asylum in America.

Rendering of “Night Watch” installation by Shimon Attie on waterborne crew boat (courtesy More Art)

Shimon Attie does not want you to mistake him for a politician. He is simply interested in creating new avenues for political discourse. Perhaps, this is why the artist has taken to Manhattan’s waterways with his latest work, “Night Watch,” which is a floating barge featuring a large-scale LED video of recent New Yorkers granted political asylum after fleeing violence and discrimination in their homelands.

“I intend to use the language of contemporary art to create new representations for how we see the other or the outsider,” Attie said in a statement.

Speaking further with Hyperallergic about his project, Attie noted that Americans, especially New Yorkers, should become more cognizant of the refugees who live with us us as neighbors and co-workers. Through understanding their stories, we might better understand the toll that rightwing, xenophobic rhetoric is having on their lives.

In conversation, though, Attie does not explicitly connect “Night Watch” to President Donald Trump’s actions, although the commander-in-chief’s shadow certainly looms large over a project confronting the country’s controversial immigration policing tactics. He did, however, pose one open question: “What does one do with a mad dog of history?”

The artist’s answer seems evident in his work, which will go on view from September 20–27, coinciding with the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly. With the institution’s headquarters on the East River’s shore, it’s probable that many diplomats and world leaders will see Attie’s piece. It’s possible that the president himself may see it.

Behind the scenes shooting “Night Watch” by Shimon Attie, produced by More Art at Chem Creative Studios, Brooklyn (courtesy More Art)

Commissioned by More Art, a nonprofit with a mission to connect artists and communities, that advocates for immigration rights, Attie has also partnered with organizations including Immigration Equality and Safe Passage Project. Through these networks, he met the twelve subjects of his video, many of whom are queer refugees and minors.

Answering questions issued by Hyperallergic, the asylees represented in Attie’s work describe America as their beloved new home, despite today’s ugly immigrant rhetoric. As for the Trump administration, “they should know that now more than ever people are connected and we are nobody’s fool,” one respondent said. “Protest and rebellion show that we know when things are not okay and that they need to change.”

Sergey from “Night Watch” (courtesy More Art)

Another respondent named Sergey, expressed hope that “Night Watch” would remind New Yorkers and President Trump that immigrants made this country. They note that while living in Kazakhstan, they were a journalist and LGBTQ activist attempting to combat a high level of homophobia until it became too dangerous to live there. In America, Sergey is actively following their dream of becoming a medical profession.

When asked what the word “community” means to them, an asylee named Denise noted that the term conjured up images of togetherness. “All of us are united for the purpose of a common good, which allows us to experience what it truly means to be human,” they said. “What it means to be American.”

Traveling at a glacial five miles-per-hour, the barge will be easy to follow for passersby looking to watch Attie’s entire 9 1/2 minute piece. The project’s website has full details of its travel schedule. Additionally, “Night Watch” will remain stationary for a variety of refugee-related shorefront events during its weeklong cruise:

Thursday, September 20, 2018 6:30-8:30 PM
Wagner Park, Battery Park City (Directions)
“Night Watch” Opening

Saturday, September 22, 2018 5:00-8:00 PM
Viewing Room at Jack Shainman Gallery (Directions) and Pier 63
A day of dialogue on LGBTQ experiences in the US immigration system

Sunday, September 23, 2018 5:30-7:30
South Bronx, at the end of Lincoln Avenue (Directions)
Article 14. Join More Art, the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, South Bronx Unite and New York Restoration Project for a celebration of NYC immigrants at the Lincoln Avenue waterfront.

Thursday, September 27, 2018 7:30-8:00
Brooklyn Bridge Park, Pier 6
Closing celebration of “Night Watch”

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