For five years, 1998-2003, Wilkes had free reign of the hospital complex that comprises the south side of Ellis Island. Neglected for nearly fifty years, the buildings were in an extreme state of disrepair: lead paint peeled from the ceilings and walls of rooms, vines and trees grew through the floorboards of once-cramped wards, detritus and debris littered the hallways. In spaces long abandoned, Wilkes manages to capture undeniable evidence of life. His is an alternate and breathtaking vision of this gateway to freedom. And through his artwork, Wilkes inspired and eventually helped raise six million dollars in funding towards the restoration of the south side of the island.