When Yoko Ono fled Japan for America in the 1950s, it was a difficult time for her and her mother after the second world war. Though she wasn’t a refugee, she empathizes with migrants being an immigrant herself.

“I didn’t have this kind of experience,” Ono tells the Guardian. “But I felt I could have had it, as an Asian, and as a woman who spoke out.”

Now, the artist is bringing two artworks to New York as part of the 18th annual River To River Festival, running until 29 June, which is presented by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council.

Ono is showing her sculpture Add Color (Refugee Boat), where she has put a rowing boat in Manhattan’s Seaport district – the same place where the first Europeans arrived at New York harbor.

“The Seaport district was once a center for immigrants, merchants, artisans and workers,” said Ono. “The environment was very much like what I experienced with my mother.”

Here, the public is provided with canisters of paint to write their thoughts onto the walls, floor and onto the boat of this downtown gallery space.


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