Timed to coincide with the United Nations General Assembly meeting September 20–27, 2018 in New York, Shimon Attie’s Night Watch introduced viewers to 12 people who were granted asylum in the United States. In a silent, looping film that lasts 10 minutes, one person at a time looks directly at the camera—and at people observing from on shore. The film was projected onto a large screen set up on a barge traveling New York’s waterways.
Commissioned by More Art, a Manhattan-based socially conscious nonprofit that specializes in public art projects, the creation of Night Watch also drew on the collaboration of community empowerment groups and legal aid organizations, such as Immigration Equality and Safe Passage Project.
Artist Shimon Attie has a long history of working with refugee and asylum communities. Most of the recent art projects that deal with refugees focus on the people trying to flee to safety, Attie told the New York Times. He chose instead to show those who live among us. “These are our neighbors. They are our co-workers. They are our friends.”
At this moment in history, he told the Times, the plight of refugees and asylum seekers is “a topic of great urgency.”
“These are people whose lives have been saved by the United States,” says Attie. “I couldn’t think of something more urgent to do.”