The newest art exhibition at Santa Clara University seeks to explore the painful, devastating, and, above-all, heartfelt stories of the process of migration in and out of the United States. Beyond Borders: Stories of im/Migration is a sweeping look at both the things that make everyone human and the circumstances people find themselves in for the sake of a better life. Created by curators and artists Karen Gutfreund and Sherri Cornett through their curatorial partnership, known as Gutfreund Cornett Art, Beyond Borders marks the pair’s fifth project in their attempt to create a dialogue of social change, using art as activism.
“With such divisive times in our political climate, we really believe art is a great way of opening the door to understanding, and more importantly, let people make up their own minds,” says Cornett.
Recent events in the current political climate regarding immigration have made both the country and California in particular rife with stories about the often painful process of transitioning between countries and, moreover, identities. Although Beyond Borders now fits squarely in the context of current events, Gutfreund Cornett Art began the process of curating the show months before the most recent election.
To share the diverse collection of experiences found within the migration process, Gutfreund and Cornett sought out a litany of artists (the preliminary list topped out at over 100 contributors). Although the final list has been whittled down to less than 30 artists, the contributions are no less explosive, thoughtful, and transcendental. In portraying narratives of migration, the artists used a variety of media for expression. Much of the work is mixed media, with pieces incorporating elements of painting and photography, where others are full-blown physical installations charting the artists’ experiences of transition between places and among people. “There are so many stereotypes about migration, so we wanted to personalize immigration and the assimilation process of migrants,” says Karen Gutfreund.
Each of the pieces tackle a different theme within the larger vision of migration. Artist Judy Gelles follows migration to the philosophical heart of the issue through her decade-long project of interviewing and photographing children from around the world, posing the simple but equally complex questions of “Who do you live with?” and “What do you wish for?” Estatuas de Sal (Pillars of Salt) by artist Carlos Cartagena portrays the experience of migrant refugee children through a mixed media display of letters, photos, and other personal effects. Artist Judith Quax has used discarded pieces of clothing that washed up on the beach in Dakar, Senegal to create her piece Washed Up Clothing as a symbol of what’s left behind. And when entering the show, the first visible piece is an installation by Shannon Wright called Feral Fence, standing as a potent symbol for visitors as they travel both in and out of the exhibition, evoking the feeling of moving in and out of a country and subsequent shift of identity that is typically required.
All of the pieces are approached with such poignancy and thoughtfulness, it may take a few visits to really get the inspiring and equally heartbreaking effect that Beyond Borders hopes to achieve.
Where as most art gallery-type shows are only open for around a month, Beyond Borders: Stories of im/Migration is open for most of early 2018, with different events hosted during the course of the exhibition to further the experience. Besides live music provided by LoCura, the opening day on February 2 will feature a conversation with many of the artists featured in the show, as well as a larger community conversation about the works in Beyond Borders.
“We certainly don’t want to tell people what to think. We’d love the broader community to come in and develop their own opinions about all these artists’ personal experiences, and take it back out to their communities,” says Karen Gutfreund about her aim for the show.
Beyond the usual art-fare crowd, Karen Gutfreund and Sherri Cornett hope to attract an audience for Beyond Borders that doesn’t necessarily have much experience with art. The curators are working to foster a deep appreciation of what it means to be a person trapped between, and subsequently at the mercy of, two worlds.
Written by Tad Malone
Photography by Daniel Garcia