Open Borders and Open Minds

Mar 10 2017

The NYU Shanghai Art Gallery has opened its first exhibition of 2017,  “Borders: Us and Them,” which probes the transformation of contemporary global borders and their socio-political implications. More than 300 guests attended the reception on March 7, one of the gallery's busiest opening nights to date.

The exhibition is the gallery's first group presentation, bringing together five international artists from three continents. The timely works by Rasmus DegnbolJohn Craig FreemanLorenzo Pezzani & Charles Heller, and Reena Saini Kallat express the existential concerns that arise in a world bordered by rising nationalism, populism and sweeping backlash against globalization.

At the opening, Degnbol from Denmark and Kallat from India spoke of their motivations and recurring themes of their previous works with NYU Shanghai students and faculty.

The  Crease / Crevice / Contour series by Kallat illustrates the changing lines of control between India and Pakistan from October 1947 to December 1948 through exposures of a woman’s body, her bare back a landscape stamped in red ink. The jarring visuals capture both the armed conflicts over Kashmir, as well as the vulnerability of women during war time.

“Stamps are often used by people to accept or reject certain things," Kallat said when asked about the cultural significance of the marks. "They also reflect identities and ownership claims between India and Pakistan.” 


Echoing Kallat, Degnbol’s photography features new borders across the European continent. Since 2015, Degnbol has traced the evolving borders within the European Union triggered by  the refugee crisis. The astonishing images he captured using drone technology were later arranged into Europe’s New Borders in 2016.

“There were no real borders among European countries before the refugee crisis,” said Degnbol. “Photography is a perfect way of delivering information and making people ponder the most dire of realities.”

The collaborative work of filmmaker Charles Heller and architect Lorenzo Pezzani also zeroed in on the politics of migration at the borders of Europe. The exhibition presented two of their video creations that critically investigated mass refugee deaths and their connections to the militarized border regime in the Mediterranean Sea.

Created by US public artist John Craig Freeman, In Border Memorial: Frontera de los Muertos applied virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to a documentary video shot in southern Arizona.

The exhibition, curated by Qian Lin, director of NYU Shanghai Gallery, is considered one of the very first in China to cast an eye on global border issues. 

Speaking at the exhibition opening, Vice-Chancellor Jeffrey Lehman said: “At NYU Shanghai, the expression of ideas through words is not the only way to touch people’s hearts and minds. The art of nonverbal technology also has the strength to shape worldviews.” 

The exhibition will be open to the public from March 7 to May 30, 2017.