Aesthetics is important because it helps us understand and judge the various qualities we find in art. But art depicting unpleasant experiences to give us a better idea of the past or the current state of affairs of our daily life is not what drives sales, though it is priceless.
In West Palm Beach, an art gallery is exhibiting “ConstitutionX: Our Human Rights Exhibition,” bringing together 23 international artists and 2 organizations united for social justice and human rights awareness. Pleasant, positive or of artful appearance is not, but the imitationalism with which each artwork focuses to represent human rights and the immigrants’ experience is unmatched.
There is a connection between dates, countries, and historic moments to understand this exhibit.
Tuesday, November 6, 1860, in a four-way contest, the Republican Party ticket of Abraham Lincoln and Hannibal Hamlin emerged triumphant over a deeply divided Democratic Party, becoming the first Republican to win the presidency. Three years later, Lincoln would issue the Emancipation Proclamation as the nation approached its third year of bloody civil war. The proclamation declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebel states “are, and henceforward shall be free.”
The proclamation was a presidential order and not a law passed by Congress, so Lincoln then pushed for an antislavery amendment to the U.S. Constitution to ensure its permanence. With the passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865, slavery was eliminated throughout America—although blacks would face another century of struggle before they truly began to gain equal rights.
A few years after, a poet from an island in Central America —Jose Marti— wrote a series of poems he called “Versos Sencilos” (Simple Verses) which read:
[…]Yo sé de un pesar profundo
entre las penas sin nombres:
¡La esclavitud de los hombres
es la gran pena del mundo!
[…] I know of deep regret
Among grieves without names:
The slavery of men
It is the great sorrow of the world!
Centuries apart, men and women still grieve other forms of slavery, injustices, and basic human rights that are being denied.
The ‘ConstitutionX: Our Human Rights’ exhibition at The Box Gallery opened last September 28 as a nod to the anniversary date (September 28, 1776) when the U.S. Congress voted to send the new Constitution of the United States to the state legislatures for their approval. The amendments included the Bill of Rights that stated: “That all men are born equally free and independent, and have certain natural, inherent and inalienable rights, amongst which are, the enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”
This Bill of Rights has been the avant-garde for which the United State of America is praised all over the world beyond its economic power or military might. It is also one of the reasons why people look to this country to immigrate. But President Donald Trump made immigration the centerpiece of his campaign and major policy shifts have occurred since January 2017 via executive orders, agency memoranda, and changes to existing programs and practice. Nationals of eight countries, most majority-Muslim, have been banned from entering the United States; refugee admissions have been reduced to the lowest level since the resettlement program was created in 1980; the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which is currently providing work authorization and temporary relief from deportation to approximately 690,000 unauthorized immigrants brought to the United States as children was canceled.
Above all, these executive orders have undermined immigrants’ human rights, including the expanded use of detention, limits on access to asylum, and family separation.
The Box Gallery’s ‘CONstitutionX: Our Human Rights’ exhibit included a series of visual art presentations, theatrical performances, performance art, films, workshops, artists talks, and a video curated by Rolando Chang Barrero and Sonia Baez-Hernandez who are artist/curators and long-established leaders of social justice art.
The artwork on display is poignant and impels the viewer to stop and reflect.
The artists exhibiting respond to the various “CONs” revealed during the current political climate in the United States and perceived as a blatant disregard of the people’s “X” basic guaranteed freedoms as stated in the Constitution of the United States’ Bill of Rights.
The 23 artists are Lisu Vega (Venezuela), Muu Blanco (Venezuela), Donna Ruff, Diane Arrieta, Ruben Riviera Matos, Sonia Baez-Hernandez (D.R), Narciso Martinez (Mex.), Maria Lino (Cuba), Sunny Marquez (P.R.), Edouard Duval-Carrié (Haiti), Sandra Portal Abreu, Diane Khalo, Izel Vargas, Zonia Zena, Rodrigo Dorfman, Evelyn Polizer, Jahaira Rios Campos y Galvez, Aime Perez (Cuba, lives in Mexico), Alandy Martinez (Cuba), Ignacio Font, Peter Eversol, Ricardo Levin Morales, and Rolando Chang Barrero.
They address a range of narratives regarding immigration and basic human rights hoping to extend the dialogue of what art and activism look like and can do, and includes some of the most powerful works being created in the social justice arena.
One of the most striking pieces that got my attention belongs to Donna Ruff who vividly illustrates the refugee turmoil created by this administration.
Ruff often works on pre-existing media such as newspapers and books, cutting away some of the content, and with this art dubbed “La Prensa,” she takes newspaper photographs published in Mexico and Central America counties to show the long journey of many migrant parents and their children to the United States, highlighting the impact of their experience. The art expresses common experiences of these people fleeing their counties because of high crime, violence, and poverty, striving to arrive at the US as a haven of safety and freedom, only to find here the same misfortunes—jail, separation, deprivation, abuse.
Massive influxes of Central American families seeking asylum in the United States are overwhelming U.S. immigration facilities. The region’s extreme poverty and violent impunity are central factors driving this migration.
Yet every migrant’s story is unique. Some simply seek the chance to earn enough money to ensure a better future for themselves or their children. Others flee persecution at the hands of gangs, organized crime or corrupt state officials. For others, insecurity and poverty are so intertwined that drawing them apart becomes impossible.
Extreme poverty and inequality haunt the region. Today, about half of all Central Americans – and two-thirds of the rural populations of Guatemala and Honduras – survive below the international poverty line. Meanwhile, throughout the 21st century, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador have consistently counted among the most murderous nations in the world. Many Central Americans trying to enter the United States are literally running for their lives.
Others are simply desperate to find work that pays enough to feed their families. But U.S. asylum law provides no relief for these refugees.
The art at ‘CONstitutionX: Our Human Rights’ speaks most of all of collective desperation, of inexplicable experiences.
These are things that leave a mark in the artists and now they have the means to express it through art,” says artist/curator Rolando Chang Barrero of The Box Gallery. “Now the public can view what motivates the artists to bring forth these pieces. I think as a consequence of social media, we have alienated the humanness of a lot of the issues in this exhibit. When you mention the word immigrant there are thousands of different experiences and interpretations. The immigration experience of each of us is unique. Some come here with an education, family, etc. Others are born here of immigrant parents working three jobs, being laughed at, singled out, being spat or treated with racial discrimination for simply being immigrant.”
These artists are putting faces to the experience of immigration and social justice of Cubans, Venezuelans, Haitians, Mexicans, and others migrating or already living in the US. They show that the Constitution is above all about human rights and hope that the advances in the treatment of immigrants that existed previously—now undermined by political rhetorics opening a multitude of wounds—can be steered back to mutual understanding and the pursuit of equality under the prevalence of human rights.
All the art is also for sale and many will remain at The Box Gallery beyond the exhibit end date which is November 6 in commemoration of the Emancipation Proclamation.
If you visit, The Box Gallery is located at 811 Belvedere Road, West Palm Beach. Check www.theboxgallery.info for exhibit hours and dates.
‘CONstitutionX: Our Human Rights is an exhibit at The Box Gallery in West Palm Beach of art that illustrates human rights and social justice for immigrants.