A depiction of a big, ugly border fence—a brutal counterpoint to Donald Trump’s “beautiful” imaginary wall—separates this pair of exhibitions about the people who bear the consequences of US immigration policies. The names of individuals who died attempting to cross the US-Mexico border appear behind the chain links of the fence, a monumental work (only part of which is on view) that Andrea Bowers produced in 2010 with the immigrant services organization Border Angels. The focus of Bowers’s project here is Elvira Arellano, a Mexican immigrant who took sanctuary at the Adalberto United Methodist Church in Chicago in 2006, resisting deportation and separation from her US-born son. Bowers’s quiet video portrait of the Arellano family in the church is moving, and a three-channel video installation features interviews with the church’s pastor and his wife, who offer persuasive, plain-language analysis of the structural factors driving migration. The exhibition overall affirms the place of religious institutions at the center of activist networks. The handmade aesthetic of Bowers’s Quilts of Radical Hospitality (Edredon de hospitalidad radical), 2008, would fit well at the Adalberto church. The pair of textiles is emblazoned with the bible quotation, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” In Bowers videos, church members appear not only welcoming and generous, but defiant and organized—well-prepared, in other works, to stand up to Trump’s threatened onslaught against immigrant families.
On the other side of the border fence are depictions of rural Guatemalan communities by photographer Andrea Aragón. Many of these images, taken in the first decade of the 2000s, reveal the impact of remesas—remittances sent by relatives working in the US. Some show women speaking on cellphones to family members abroad or holding images of long-separated relatives. Subtler, but no less striking, are photographs in which the American flag appears painted on homes financed by remesas. In Guatemala, these star-spangled banners stand as icons of idealism and hope, their meaning totally opposed to the nativism and intolerance expressed with the same flag at Trump’s rallies. —William S. Smith
Pictured: Detail of Andrea Bowers’s Quilt of Radical Hospitality (Edredon de hospitalidad radical), 2008, two fabric quilts, 432 by 88 inches each. Courtesy Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York. Photo Joshua White.