Art Exhibit at Oakland’s Betti Ono Gallery Exposes Realities Migrants Experience in Detention
Oct 30, 2015
Visitors to the Betti Ono gallery exhibit “Visions from the Inside” work on a collaborative mural. Photo by Tulio Ospina.
By Tulio Ospina
The Betti Ono art gallery opened its doors Monday evening to the public for the creation of a mural using images from the “Visions from the Inside” project, depicting the experiences and hardships of undocumented mothers and children held in detention centers in the U.S.
Led by local cultural activist group CultureStrike, exhibition is the collaborative effort between detained migrants at the for-profit Karnes Detention Center in Texas and several artists and activists from across the country, designed to amplify migrants’ stories and show that art can be used as a tool to highlight these issues.
“The idea for the project came out of a trip earlier this year we took to the border and met with folks in detention centers,” said Julio Salgado, project manager and visual artist for CultureStrike.
“They mentioned that writing letters was the only way they could communicate with the outside world, since other communication is unavailable or too expensive,” he said.
As a result, the project team collected letters written by detained mothers and children and asked visual artists to illustrate interpretations of the letters, exposing “the realities that migrants are experiencing inside of detention facilities, what led them to migrate away from their home countries, and the resiliency of the human spirit,” according to the project description.
“I am trusting my God who will quickly end this nightmare,” said one of the letters. Another detainee wrote, “We are not a threat for this country, all I want is refuge in this country for my children and for me.”
People and a few of the illustrators crowded into the gallery space on Monday night, water coloring the large square prints of the artists’ illustrations that lay on the floor and then pasting them onto the gallery wall.
In one corner, members of Mujeres Unidas y Activas—a grassroots organization of Latina immigrant women—offered a place where participants could write about their experiences as immigrants.
“As a Black person, I have a lot of solidarity with the migrant struggle and the whole prison system in general and how it tears families apart,” said Francis Mead, a local artist who illustrated one of the panels.
Many people do not know that these detention centers exist and that people profit from them, said Salgado. “People don’t think about what is forcing migrants to come over and how they are held in centers for profit without any due process.”
According to Amanda Irwin of Centro Legal de la Raza, Alameda County and Oakland in particular are among the main destinations of undocumented minors who enter the country without a guardian.
If these young people are picked up at the border, they are immediately placed in detention centers under the oversight of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) and held there indefinitely until a relative or acquaintance is located somewhere in the U.S. who is willing to sponsor the child.
If the resettlement office is unable to find a sponsor, the minor could face possible deportation back to the country they had fled.
“These are young people who have experienced extreme violence and for them to come and then be put in a sterile institutional environment is really damaging for young children,” said Irwin.
Currently, there are 618 reported unaccompanied minors living in Alameda County and over 400 are enrolled in the Oakland Unified School District.
The exhibit is on display at the Betti Ono gallery until Sunday, Nov. 1 at 1427 Broadway in Oakland.
For more information on “Visions from the Inside” or to purchase an illustration, visit culturestrike.org.