In a poignant new art exhibit coming to Ellis Island, historical photographs are transformed into larger-than-life cutouts, offering visitors a unique portal to the past. Famed street artist JR created the vinyl wraps that cling to crumbling hospital walls and windows, giving life to images of doctors, nurses and immigrants who temporarily called the island home between 1892 and 1954.
The exhibit will be part of a new public tour conducted by Save Ellis Island, a group dedicated to preserving and rebuilding the island’s south side. It is being installed among the 29 crumbling brick buildings that functioned as an intricate hospital campus for treating and rehabilitating sick immigrants before releasing them to a new life on the mainland.
The exhibit, titled Unframed – Ellis Island, figuratively breaks the photographs out of their boundaries. The slightly translucent nature of the images lets the patterns of wood paneling, brick walls and cracked plaster show through. It gives the cut-out figures a ghostly persona, reminding us that the memories of the 12 million immigrants who trekked through the Ellis Island portal are still alive today.