Friday, August 11, 2017
by Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Aug.10, 2017
A mile away from the Northwest Detention Center where immigrants are held while awaiting deportation, Spaceworks Gallery is holding their second exhibition focusing on immigration, Immigration: Hopes Realized, Dreams Derailed. This follows Scars and Stripes, this past spring’s exhibition on Cambodian refugees and the U.S. involvement in Cambodia during the Vietnam War.
So much is covered by this exhibition of film, paintings, drawings, sculpture, found art, poetry and other documentation of immigrants’ lives. A Spaceworks essay by Susan Noyes Platt says, “Behind these facts and statistics are the personal stories of mothers, fathers, children, aunts, uncles, grandmothers and friends who live in fear every time they wake up in the morning...” This show “suggests some of those stories of courage, of defiance, of perseverance, of hope and dreams, as well as including the dark side of immigration, most specifically here in Tacoma, at the Northwest Detention Center itself.”
When I visited the gallery, artist David Long was still working on his mural about the hunger strikes at the Detention Center. His mural covers one wall in an alcove. It is a hand-lettered copy of a letter outlining the demands of the strikers, none of which have been met. The words are printed in black and gray, and many of them are partially obliterated by thin coats of white paint. The words are easily read through the drippy white paint. I take it that this partial obfuscation is meant to symbolize that their demands are not being listened to.
Nearby are is a pair of acrylic paintings by Ami Adler called “Ushering In” and “The Welcome,” depicting immigrants being welcomed into the Detention Center. The men and women in the paintings look neither welcomed nor happy. They are painted in a style reminiscent of protest art from the 1930s and ’40s, with hints of cubism, painted in dull tones of gray and earth colors. These paintings evoke sadness and anger, as do many of the works in this show.
Ricardo Gomez is showing a series of works called “Portrait of a Migrant.” They are hinged boxes, one an old shoe-shine box, that open to reveal a surprise portrait of an immigrant. The surprise element is important to the appreciation of these works, so I will not say what is found inside the boxes, but shall only say that his point is well made.
A companion work by Gomez called “Two Sides of the Wall” starkly illustrates the us-versus-them nature of our current immigration policies. It is a sculpted wall piece based on a pinball hockey game with mazes and little Lego-like players and weapons. Slicing across the board at a harsh angle is a hand saw that divides the two sides. It is beautifully crafted and makes the point emphatically.
For aesthetic excellence, you can’t beat Janice La Berne Baker's mixed media painting "Immigration." The chalky dull green and red and gray complement each other nicely. There is a layered, shrouded figure that looks like a collage of old billboards that have been exposed part-by-part as layers are ripped off, and there are two figures whose bodies are obliterated by the dull pea-green of the background. The artist explains that it is about the separation of family and about having to hide who you are from those you love. "It is dedicated to two wonderful women I know who are Dreamers and who deal with the uncertainty about the future every day," she says.
The few works mentioned here are a tiny fraction of what is to be seen in this show. The exhibition provides an intriguing mixture of works by professional and amateur visual artists, poets and filmmakers, including works by detainees at the Detention Center. It also offers a balance between aesthetic considerations and political and social commentary. Please stop by Spaceworks Gallery to see this show.
Immigration: Hopes Realized, Dreams Derailed, 1-5 p.m., Monday-Friday and 1-9 p.m. Third Thursday, through Aug. 17, Spaceworks Gallery, 950 Pacific Ave., Tacoma.