Migrations of humanity, whether instigated by war, conflict, persecution, poverty or climate change, transport peoples from the known, their homes, families and communities, to the unknown. Beyond Borders: Stories of im/Migration explores the personal and observed narratives surrounding the struggles of flight, the immigration process, asylum, assimilation, deportation, threats of violence and the perception of being “other” within the American culture. Despite the complex assortment of legal, social, emotional and physical challenges, increasing numbers still trade these risks for the chance of safer, better lives for themselves and their families. Beyond Borders acknowledges the dignity, dreams and sacrifices of these people and reflects on where we are going, individually and as community.
After navigating Feral Fence, Shannon Wright’s huge sculptural armature of twisted steel and formidable, y-shaped barbed wire, set in the lobby as a Trumpian-inspired barricade, one is presented with questions about perspectives and expectations, our own and those of others. Where are you from and where are you going? How does one fit in the American culture that is increasingly perpetrating the concept of “other” rather than unity, disregarding the American Dream that was intended for all?
With Estatuas de Sal (Pillars of Salt), San Francisco-based artist Carlos Cartegena, portrays images of migrant refugee children coated in a salt solution with a reference to Sodom and Gomorrah and the impending destruction of those two cities. Carlos says “In order to rescue themselves, they have to leave everything behind, to uproot themselves and take with them only those belongings that can fit in their hands. To avoid this fate, you must emigrate without asking what future awaits you. Run, escape, save yourself! But don’t ever allow yourself to look back.”
This hit close to home for many communities in California, where the horrendous wild fires of 2017 caused many to run for their lives, leaving and losing everything behind in their desperation. And it’s not only possessions left behind, but also the culture, people, families, and the land and landscapes one calls home. Tessie Barrera-Scharaga, with Cartography of Longing, creates installations of paintings connected to objects wrapped in strips of paper that poignantly tell the story of her childhood moving frequently between South and Central America and the US.
Diane Kahlo created Crossings/Travesías, a powerfully large installation with a painting of Virgin of Guadalupe surrounded by bright altars covered with flowers and candles. The Virgin, La Morena, laments over a massive sand filled grave with a skeleton and skulls embellished in jewels and sequins. Kahlo beautifully portrays the inevitable loss of life of people attempting to migrate across the harsh desert environment.
Can you image putting your child in a suitcase to get him through airport security and onward to another location where he will be safe? Julio Cesar Morales’s, Boy in Suitcase, does just that. His video depicts an eight-year-old boy’s journey from the Ivory Coast, recently smuggled to Spain via Morocco in a suitcase. Beautifully rendered with lights and colors is juxtaposed with the realization of what is happening. The imagined fear and desperation of this individual to risk this with one’s child is incomprehensible.
But once on our shores, the treatment of the immigrants can be barbaric. Barcelona-based artist Daniela Ortiz’s, video FDTD (Forcible Drugging to Deport / Sedación Forzada para Deportar), portrays in graphic detail the forced administering of a sedative drug to allow easy deportation of the victim. Although on another subject entirely, the forced sedative injections make me think of the force-feeding of the suffragettes. These unneeded shows of force and power, and the lack of humanity—leaving the victim powerless and subjected to will of their captors to do as they wish.
America, at its best, is an advocate and ally for democracy and refuge for the endangered and oppressed and a sanctuary for peoples—women, children, and families looking for a better life. With current xenophobia rhetoric running rampant, political and activist art is not new, but is stronger now than ever and with the collective consciousness movement for resistance and social engagement as evidenced by the quantity of exhibitions and art being produced on these matters, we hope to see positive change, not only for the United States, but the world.
In this turbulent time of political changes, social, racial, gender and economic inequality—how do we effect positive change through art? How do we listen, speak our minds, include, and act in collaboration or alone across generational differences, races, identities and cultures, to build our future, locally and globally? Beyond Borders: Stories of im/Migration speaks eloquently to these subjects. Art can be a powerful, productive force and instrumental in sparking change or critical thinking. Through their curatorial practice, Gutfreund Cornett Art is committed to promoting and supporting local, national, and global art activism. Art can produce a visceral response and can provoke, inspire, or disturb, and opens one’s eyes to worlds other than your own. While the artist may not consider themselves to be a revolutionary, by bringing to light issues and concerns, art can effect change. We need art that help us to understand what is happening in our society, who we are, where we come from and where we’re going.
By: Karen Gutfreund, Partner, Gutfreund Cornett Art
Beyond Borders: Stories of im/Migration, opened to the public on January 8 and runs thru April 6, 2018 at Santa Clara University, Edward M. Dowd Art and Art History Building Gallery, 755 Franklin Street. Gallery hours: Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. or by appointment (contact Karen Gutfreund at email@example.com