BCA exhibit exposes immigration policy
Seven artists dissect immigration, deportation, ICE detention and many other weighty topics in the timely, haunting exhibition “Resistant Currents,” at the BCA’s Mills Gallery through Sept. 23. Each artist applied firsthand experiences with immigration policy to their work, and used language and symbols to illustrate the system’s flaws and rebel against them.
Layle Omeran, a Yemeni artist living in Boston, displays bold, large-scale portraits. The minimalistic drawings, hung simply and unframed beside each other, depict queer Yemeni immigrants. Omeran has cunningly crafted the images with traditional Arabic calligraphy, creating rebellious figures out of the government’s means of censorship. Omeran says women and Yemenis identifying as feminine rarely receive any public acknowledgement. Here her depiction of the migrants themselves acts as a form of resistance. Omeran is part of Za’faraan, a queer online zine for Middle Easterners, and the collective’s work also is on view in the exhibit
In a corner space of the gallery, Hong Kong-born artist Joanna Tam has assembled a series of objects meant to remind the viewer of home. Large, cozy
pillows sit on the floor, a strip of vinyl siding favored by suburban homes decorates the wall, and a circular lampshade hangs from the ceiling. The whole space is painted a bright, inviting yellow. But on closer examination, viewers find printed on each item photographs of sites where ICE agents have seized undocumented people.
Immediately, the sense of familiarity and safety typically associated with these homey objects is disrupted. The photographs depict shelters, hospitals
and even a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office. Tam reminds us that nowhere is safe; the areas where immigrants are supposed to be able to find support are dangerous and untrustworthy. Stenciled on the wall are the lines, “I came to find shelter and you arrested me. I came to be cured and you arrested me. I came to be ‘legal’ and you arrested me.”
Anto Astudillo brings the message even closer to home with her documentary film “Santiago Barbershop,” highlighting a group of Dominican barbers in Somerville. The film not only illustrates the cultural community created in this local hub, and the hairstyles that shape Hispanic masculinity, it also tells stories of the immigrant experience during the Obama administration. This allows for comparison with current circumstances.
“Resistant Currents” offers a wide spectrum of perspectives on immigration from different cultures, genders and experiences. It further illustrates the power of art in telling stories that may have no other opportunity to be communicated.