Months before last November’s election, Spaces invited artists to submit proposals for an exhibition on what immigration might look like 100 days into the new presidency. At the time, wrenching pictures of the Syrian refugee crisis were at the forefront of the news. “[Spaces] had also recently relocated,” says executive director Christina Vassallo. “So this idea of movement was really on everyone’s mind.”
But when immigration hard-liner Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton, it caused a shake-up. “I sent an email to all the artists telling them that their work mattered more tomorrow than it did yesterday,” Vassallo recounts.
The resulting artwork, on view at Spaces in the First 100+ Days exhibit May 5-June 30, humanizes the immigration and migration experience, including a video of interviews with immigrants that taps into their anxieties and dreams, and a video of a naturalized citizen replacing Barack Obama’s portrait with Trump’s.
“Our hope is that when people leave, they are able to consider the president’s immigration policy from the perspective of someone that this really affects,” says Vassallo.
American at Work, Kelley O’Brien
The video features a Federal Building employee in Richmond, Virginia — who is a naturalized citizen from Mexico — charged with swapping a portrait of President Barack Obama for President Trump. “I wanted to show that our country is made up of immigrants who are always working to support our country,” says the Cleveland artist.
Homs Sweet Homs, Tony Ingrisano
The Cleveland artist interviewed refugees, living in the Toledo area, about relocating to America from Homs, Syria. Raised text from their firsthand accounts underlays hand-painted images of their hometown reduced to rubble. “The interviewees had and continue to undergo extreme hardship and instability, yet generally reflected a forward-thinking optimism,” Ingrisano says.
Black-eyed Women, Home Affairs: Arzu Ozkal, Claudia Costa Pederson, Nanette Yannuzzi
Home Affairs is made up of three artists — two immigrants and the daughter of first-generation immigrants — who live in Oberlin, San Diego and Wichita, Kansas. Texts from interviews with refugees and immigrants are interspersed with poetry and stories of displacement to create an animated word cloud. Projected onto a screen over the rear-facing gallery windows, the word cloud is then visible from the gallery’s exterior windows so the message reaches the public. “We’re hoping these words evoke compassion for the massive human experience of displacement,” says Pederson of Wichita.