Artists Use Their Talents to Tackle Trump’s Immigration Policies

As the Trump Administration continues to implement anti-immigration policies steeped in fear and xenophobia, communities across the nation are joining forces to rally in support of immigrants and to keep the American dream alive. Since Trump took office just a year and a half ago, millions of Americans have engaged in protests and marches against his attacks on immigrants that include a ban on visa holders from predominately Muslim countries and a since reversed policy allowing Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) officials to separate minor children from parents seeking asylum at the U.S. / Mexico border. And one faction among the legion of Trump dissenters is particularly passionate about their message. Artists are using their skills and creativity to create striking visual statements against the Trump administration’s assault on immigration, and in the process they’re initiating important conversations about our identity as a nation.

In New York City, which was port of entry for hundreds of thousands of immigrants during the 19th and 20th centuries, Los Angeles-based Mexican artist Tanya Aguiniga has assembled a showcase of her work at the Museum of Art and Design. Entitled Craft & Care, the exhibit creates a visceral sense of what it’s like to cross the U.S. / Mexico border by implementing a variety of media. One of her pieces features a wooden staircase imprinted with standard questions that immigration officials ask border crossers at the point of entry to the United States, such as “Has anyone in your family been convicted of a crime?” In a recent interview with The Guardian, the exhibit’s curator Shannon R. Stratton explained that Aguinga has crossed the U.S. / Mexico border more than 50 times and aims to weave her unique perspective into her art. “Her own personal experience with border emotions is brought into the work. It taps into what the border means to the U.S. and Mexico; it’s a shared liminal space, it’s not just how it’s framed as an immigration issue in the U.S.” [See Drawing a Line: How Artists Are Speaking Out On US-Mexico Border Relations, by Nadja Sayej, The Guardian, 07.Aug.2018.]

And in Texas, a highly controversial painting by LatinoAmerican artist, Vincent Valdez, finally was put on display last month at The Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas, after nearly two years of deliberation by museum officials. “The City I” is a large scale oil painting depicting a gathering of the Ku Klux Klan, a white supremacist group who espouse racist and xenophobic beliefs. The painting depicts the group’s members holding smartphones and backlit by a pickup truck, creating a scene that is disturbingly current considering the uptick in racially motivated hate crimes since Trump took office. While Valdez received criticism for the painting’s subject matter, his supporters hope that “The City I” will remind viewers that nationalistic sentiments are still threatening minority groups in America, including the immigrant community. In an interview with Hyperallergic, the museum’s Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art Veronica Roberts explained, “Latino and Latinx artists have been extremely overlooked in the country and in conversations in the art world. I think of [The City I] as one of the works I’m most proud to have championed.” [See Texas Museum Deliberates How To Display a Mural About Hate Crimes Against Latinos, by Jasmine Weber, Hyperallergic, 27.Jul.2018.]

Meanwhile, at the Corcoran School of the Arts in Washington D.C., another type of art is on display. The Corcoran is featuring twenty cartoons and sketches by political cartoonist Rob Rogers. Rogers was the political cartoonist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for twenty-five years, before being fired in June for his cartoons criticizing President Trump. The piece that reportedly prompted his termination was a cartoon that depicts Trump snatching a child away from a family of immigrants. Following his firing, Rogers defended his cartoon in an interview with The Guardian, explaining how important a vibrant free press is to democracy. “We are supposed to be the watchdog that keeps the president accountable.” Still, as Rogers notes to The Washington Post, what may have been quickly forgotten as a political cartoon is now making waves as lasting art. “It’s surreal – there’s really no other way to put it – that cartoons that were not good enough for the Post-Gazette are now in the Corcoran Gallery.” [See ‘This Exhibition Should have Never Happened’: The Anti-Trump Cartoons that Got an Artist Fired go on Display, by Michael Cavna, The Washington Post, 20.Jul.2018. See also, Pittsburgh Cartoonist Says He was Fired After 25 Years for Making Fun of Trump, by Joanna Walters, The Guardian, 17.Jun.2018]

 

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