The topic of immigration and cultural identity has dominated our newsfeeds now more than ever before.
The Susquehanna Art Museum has taken the opportunity to address this timely issue from the sensitive perspective of the young lives affected.
“Después de la Frontera/After the Border” is a bilingual group exhibition that honors the stories of recent unaccompanied immigrant youth, families and young adults who fled their homes in Central America for more opportunity and safer lives in the United States. The artistic representations range from intensely personal to searing political commentary.
Valeria Molinari’s “Who” are four screen printed rectangles in red, blue, black and white, which bear an identical poem questioning the notion of who has the right to determine where one is allowed to live and prosper. A jagged line bisects the words, representing the border between Mexico and the United States.
In a more direct form of criticism, Eric Garcia’s ink-on-paper cartoons express dissatisfaction with state and national policies and procedures. Using strong imagery, which draws inspiration from such artists as Guadalupe Posada and Goya, Garcia employs dark humor to attack the political institutions that he feels oppress the immigrants.
Michelle Angela Ortiz presents two unique creations crafted from cut Masonite, acrylic paint and LED lights illuminating the negative space. The results are shapes that pop from the walls. Ortiz’s “Entangled” is the darkened profile of a young man wearing a cap standing behind barbed wire. “I Love You” depicts the golden necklace worn by woman in honor of her soon to be deported daughter. Both pieces used the oversize scale and lights to draw in the eye to these melancholy images.
Photography is able to capture the real time experiences of many of these young people traveling from Central America. Armando Mejia’s photos, “Marcos” and “Rachel,” feature two young children caught up in the protests of marchers moving from Guatemala and Honduras through Mexico.
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The photographs of Levi Vonk examine the travel of Central American teenage boys on buses and trains in order to reach their final destinations with dreams of prosperity. In many of these candid photos, the subjects look directly at the camera and, in turn, make a connection with the viewer’s eye to create a sense of intimacy and connectedness.
One particularly interesting photo by Vonk captures four young men from El Salvador who intended to skateboard to Los Angeles, California. Their plan is further explored in the short film by Vonk who collaborates with exhibition curator, Tanya Garcia, on “The Skaters.” The teens describe their experiences as they skate toward the United States. Ultimately only two make it to their final destination with the others deported back to El Salvador.
Tanya Garcia created another short film, titled “Keep Walking,” which uses tight close-ups of the eyes and mouths of young women and mothers who have left their children behind in order to makes better lives for them all. They share their experiences, both hopeful and painful, and the sacrifices they have made. Their narration is a powerful statement of their determination in the face of utter despair.
Silvia Mata-Marin’s video presentation, “My Path to Legal Residency,” is a simple cartoon aimed at the youngest immigrants. It attempts to explain the basic terms and steps an unaccompanied minor can anticipate in coming to the United States. Breaking down the complex legal process they must navigate, she provides a resource that is age appropriate, culturally sensitive and data specific, which is both informative to these children as well as to any American adult who is naïve to the complicated struggles they face.
The Susquehanna Art Museum has done a remarkable job in bringing in art that humanizes a very polarizing topic. Through the sensitive treatment of the realities that face these young immigrants, the viewer is given the opportunity to learn about the dangers that face the young people of Central America and their motivations to leave their homelands in search of a new life.
To accompany and enhance the experience of “Después de la Frontera/After the Border,” the Susquehanna Art Museum has planned several special events and programming. On Friday at 6 p.m., there will be a free screening of the 2009 Spanish language film “Sin Nombre.. The film is about a Honduran teen who intends to emigrate to Mexico and then enter the United States. Following the film, Tanya Garcia will lead the viewers in closing reflections.
On Saturday, Oct. 15 at 2 p.m., Garcia will lead an in depth bilingual tour of the exhibition. The tour is free with admission to the museum. Also on Oct. 15 at 3 p.m., Garcia will lead a panel discussion to explore some of the stories that inspired the exhibition, providing insight into the existing services for youth and families who immigrate to our community.
“Después de la Frontera/After the Border” is on display until Dec. 4 at the Susquehanna Art Museum. The museum is located at 1401 N. Third St., Harrisburg. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday and from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. General admission is $8; $5 for teachers, seniors and veterans; and free for children younger than 12. Free parking is available at the rear of the building.
For additional information on the museum and exhibitions, visit its website at www.SusquehannaArtMuseum.org.
Joseph George holds a degree in history and art history from Dickinson College. He and his wife, Barrie Ann have spent much of their 25 years together traveling and visiting art galleries locally and throughout the world. Their tastes range from fine art to street art.