"'People Have Been Kind of Slapped Awake': Urgent New Art Show Shines a Light on Immigration," by Siddhartha Mitter, The Village Voice
With talk of registries, roundups, and walls surging in political rhetoric, the question of sanctuary, which anchors a pair of immigration-themed shows currently at the Bronx Museum, is more urgent than ever. During the presidential campaign, cracking down on sanctuary cities — those, like New York, that decline to enforce or expend local resources on federal immigration laws when no other criminal offense has taken place — became a major Republican rallying cry. Since the election, alarmed activists have put fresh energy into initiatives to make more cities, states, and university campuses similar sanctuaries.
At the museum, "Sanctuary" is the name of an exhibition of works by the Los Angeles–based artist Andrea Bowers, and also of a specific piece made in 2007 — a solemn, silent video portrait of Elvira Arellano, an undocumented immigrant, and her son Saul, a U.S. citizen. At the time, the two had taken refuge in a church, Chicago's Adalberto United Methodist — an actual sanctuary. Later, Arellano was deported, but not before spending a year sheltering there. Bowers also presents a video installation, An Act of Radical Hospitality, that fills in the story documentary-style, with protest footage and interviews with the pastor, Walter Coleman, a veteran of Chicago movement politics, and his spouse, the activist Emma Lozano.
Elsewhere in the show, Bowers presents four panels from a larger work, No Olvidado (Not Forgotten), a black-and-white installation that incorporates hundreds of names of people who died, whether from starvation or violence, while crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. In a style that echoes Maya Lin's Vietnam War memorial on the National Mall, the names fill the background of a drawing of a barbed-wire fence. Bowers got the names from the San Diego group Border Angels, which works to reduce border deaths as part of its advocacy for migrants; they would likely have been forgotten otherwise.