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In Trump’s First Year, Philly’s Public Spaces Transformed to Honor the Immigrant Experience

January 17, 2018

It’s nearing the anniversary of President Trump’s inauguration, a year that saw our president try to enact an illegal (and immoral) Muslim travel ban, threaten the status of Dreamers and people protected under DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) solely for political gain, and racistly refer to Haiti, African nations, and El Salvador as “shithole countries” in an attempt to argue that we should let less immigrants in from those places.

And through it all, Philadelphia used its public spaces to send a different message to immigrants, Dreamers, and refugees alike: that we respect their experiences and value their contributions to our city and our country. Let’s take a look at five of those public art installations that took place around Philly this past year:

Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture and Wendy Ewald’s An Immigrant Alphabet

In September, Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture installed large banners all around the Municipal Services Building in Thomas Paine Plaza (at 15th street and JFK boulevard) that explored and honored the immigrant experiences of many young Philadelphians. The installation, titled An Immigrant Alphabet, featured the work of artist Wendy Ewald in collaboration with Northeast High School students. (Read more here.)

Michelle Angela Ortiz’s Seguimos Caminando (We Keep Walking)

Michelle Angela Ortiz‘s projection tribute to the undocumented mothers and children detained at the Berks Detention Center, a prison outside of Philadelphia for immigrant families, was one of three installations created for the city’s Monument Lab exhibition last fall that all centered on the immigrant experience. (Read more here.)

Ricardo Rivera and Klip Collective’s Passage :: Migration

In October, Klip Collective‘s one-night-only projection at Marconi Plaza in South Philadelphia, also a part of Monument Lab, was an installation in honor of generations of Philadelphia immigrants. (Read more here.)

JR and The Inside Out Project’s We Stand with Dreamers

In December, internationally renowned street artist and activist JR‘s Inside Out Project rolled in to Philly and with the help of the Emerson Collective and Mural Arts Philadelphia installed a temporary wheatpaste mural at 18th and Sansom streets using photo portraits of hundreds of Philadelphians who support protecting undocumented Dreamers living here in Philadelphia and around the U.S. (Read more here.)

Tania Bruguera’s Monument to New Immigrants

A meditation on the history and present-day significance of immigration in Philadelphia and beyond, Tania Bruguera‘s Monument to New Immigrants  installed a physically incomplete unfired sculpture of an immigrant child – unmarked by race, ethnicity, or gender to represent not a particular community, but all immigrants – which after weeks of weathering and outdoor conditions deteriorated and slowly disappeared upon which another identical sculpture took its place. This cycle repeated throughout the Monument Lab exhibition of which it was a part, until the series of fabricated sculptures fully disappeared. In talking about her installation, the artist remarked that the installation was an ode to “arrival, adaption, and renewal.” (Read more here.)

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