Bay Area Public Art Installation Sparks Dialogue and Challenges Assumptions about Immigrant and Refugee Families
In response to the new administration’s harsh immigration policies, The New American Story Project (NASP) spearheaded a collaboration between Forward Together, Centro Legal de la Raza (Centro Legal) and City Lights Booksellers and Publishers to provoke conversation about the refugee experience through a public art installation. To commemorate Immigrant Heritage Month, powerful portraits of Central American refugees will hang on banners outside of the City Lights store in San Francisco. The images highlight Centro Legal clients, including a local mother and her children, along with two unaccompanied teenagers, all of whom sought asylum here.
As we see increased enforcement against immigrant and refugee communities, this art aims to generate awareness and understanding of what it means to immigrate: the challenges, the stories, and what is at stake. “Public art is confrontational. We want the public to see these people—refugees in our community—and ask, “Who are they? Why are they here? What are their stories? Who created this artwork and why?” notes Micheline Aharonian Marcom, founder of NASP which fosters collaborations between artists to tell the stories of immigrants and refugees in order to bear witness, raise awareness, and provoke transformative conversation.
The women and children featured on the banners represent the hundreds of immigrants and refugees who have sought refuge in our community. Centro Legal, the largest legal service provider in Northern and Central California, represents people facing deportation and is one of the few organizations regularly on the ground visiting the immigration detention centers. The surge of mass deportations, raids and detention under the Trump administration is causing fear and uncertainty among immigrant and refugee communities.
Paul Chavez, Executive Director of Centro Legal said, “Art is a powerful tool to generate deep and lasting social change, art inspires us to action and urges us to think beyond the box. It is essential that, in this political climate, we face the xenophobic and anti-immigrant rhetoric from all fronts, working together and creating a dialog that ultimately will help us lay the foundations of a just and safe society for everybody.”
“How are we taking up public space using art in age of Trump?” asks Micah Bazant, Artist in Residence at Forward Together, who created the artwork. Bazant hopes people will see the art and think about who is being hunted and criminalized for existing, and how to show up in allyship in those communities. “When you walk around the Bay you see signs in homes, schools, and businesses, welcoming people who are being targeted by this administration. We are resisting a story about fear and taking up public space to assert that we will love and defend each other. ”
“The City Lights storefront Banner Series is an ongoing project to claim public space for meaningful expression, an alternative to the advertising and propaganda that usually bombards us from all sides as we walk or drive through the city,” explains Elaine Katzenberger, Publisher and Executive Director of City Lights Booksellers and Publishers. The banners are meant to stimulate passersby into dialogue and reflection while providing commentary on current events. The unveiling is timed to coincide with Immigrant Heritage Month, and they will remain during the summer tourist season when an influx of visitors come to San Francisco from all over the country and the world.
Forward Together and NASP will release two new posters on the 29th to start conversations outside of the Bay Area. The posters will be available for free download at forwardtogether.org and at newamericanstoryproject.org. NASP is planning future poster installations this summer including an exhibit at Centro Legal’s offices in Fruitvale starting on July 6th.
All spokespeople quoted are available for comment and the art installation will be on display at City Lights Bookstore at 261 Columbus Ave in San Francisco as of June 29th.