As national discourse rages about building walls, banning particular groups of people, and rolling back human rights, artists in Arizona are fostering conversations about immigration in some pretty creative ways.
Rachel Bowditch, a multidisciplinary artist based at Arizona State University, created The Conference of the Birds. It's a work of poetry, movement, and digital art meant to convey the beauty and rich diversity of immigrant cultures. Margarita Cabrera gathered immigrants and others for a shared arts experience that gave them a chance to talk about their diverse backgrounds, using art and conversation as a means of fostering mutual respect and understanding.
“Art can be a reflection of who we are, and must be a tool for transformation and change,” Cabrera says. “Art does best when it creates important and necessary dialogue.”
While debates continue across America and beyond, several Arizona artists are using their art practice to promote dialogue and diversity. Here are 10 of the many artists whose work is making a difference in our community.
An associate professor at the School of Film, Dance, and Theatre at Arizona State University, Bowditch recently completed a two-year project called The Conference of the Birds, working with a team of 10 artists to reinterpret a 12th-century Persian poem. For Bowditch, whose work includes portrayals of Syrian refugees fleeing their homeland, the immersive performance is a counterpoint to negative portrayals of Middle Eastern cultures. The Conference of the Birds is being performed through Saturday, February 25, at downtown Phoenix's Unexpected Art Gallery.
A photographer and MFA student at ASU, James has spent the last year and a half visiting sites where people have died while crossing the border from Mexico into the United States. When he arrives at each site, James photographs the specific place where the person died, the surrounding landscape, and artifacts he finds there. Sometimes, he discovers and photographs human remains. In doing so, he calls attention to the plight of immigrants seeking a new life — and the consequences of creating walls to separate people and cultures.
Faham hails from Hermosillo in the Mexican state of Sonora, and recalls how people routinely traveled between Mexico and the United States. After moving to America, Faham was shocked to discover that few people she met had ever been to Mexico. Today, she's the curator of ASU Art Museum's CALA Initiatives, where she works on projects that help make cross-border connections. This year, CALA Alliance will partner with a Guadalajara-based organization to host artist-in-residence exchanges. By highlighting cultural exchange, Faham reminds people that immigration is crucial to sharing ideas.
Through painting, printmaking, and photography, Miles creates powerful images of Native Americans in historical and contemporary context. The Apache artist's work is currently featured in the "Western POP: Facts and Fiction of the American West" exhibition that continues through May 6 at the Gallery at Tempe Center for the Arts. Without directly addressing immigration-related issues, Miles' work reminds people that many Americans have immigrant roots. In doing so, he challenges viewers to consider their own immigrant identity while respecting the heritage of those from diverse cultures.
Artist Lopez has been active in the Phoenix art scene since 1982, when she helped to start a collective called Movimento Artistico del Rio Salado (MARS) for Chicano artists. It’s since disbanded, but Lopez is one of many MARS artists continuing to address immigration-related issues. For Lopez, it takes the form of dresses created using cyanotype photographs on tamale paper. Often, Lopez's cyanotype images reference her family’s own immigrant history, or social justice issues surrounding immigration. Recently, her work was featured in “Annie Lopez: True Blue” presented by R. Pela Contemporary at Walter Art Gallery.
Read on for more artists addressing immigration issues through their work.