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Feb 14th, 2021

Across Borders:

Contemporary Artists Explore Migration and Displacement

This exhibition takes place in conjunction with High Point University’s installation of Hostile Terrain 94, a global participatory political art project organized by the Undocumented Migration Project (UMP), that memorializes and bears witness to the thousands of migrants who have died as a result of ‘Prevention Through Deterrence,’ the U.S. immigration policy between Mexico and the United States.

Contemporary Artists Explore Migration and Displacement

The heightened rhetoric around issues of immigration deployed in political debates during and after a contentious presidential election cycle, coupled with the recent observation of the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans to the American colonies, has renewed long-standing conversations and conflicts around American identity and transnationalism. Additonally, awareness of how the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted nearly every aspect of the U.S. immigration system, including the operations of immigration courts, and has profoundly impacted the ability of foreign nationals to travel to the United States in any status has raised concern, particularly for the tens of thousands of people who remain detained despite the high risk of COVID-19 transmission in the crowded jails, prisons, and detention centers that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement uses to hold noncitizens.

It is within these and other intersecting contexts that we invite visitors to engage with the work of the artists represented in ‘Across Borders.’ This exhibit aims: to center the voices of artists whose lived experiences afford them particular insight into issues of immigration and national identity; to make space for personal conversations about America’s complex and often problematic engagement with these issues; and to celebrate the courage and resilience of those whose lives have brought them ‘Across Borders.’


‘Across Borders’ was curated by Gui Portel, a queer artist, educator, and organizer (they/them/their). They are a latine immigrant and multi-tasking leader with experience in arts organizing, event coordination, group learning facilitation, theatre production, and photography. As a non-binary queer who lived as an undocumented immigrant for over 18 years, Portel believes that since art is culture and culture shapes society, artists should actively consider their roles in both society and community.

Portel wishes to extend sincerest thanks to the artists who submitted work for consideration. The artworks chosen reflect what they hope is a meaningful diversity of both aesthetics and viewpoints. The Sechrest Gallery is pleased to represent so many artists whose lived personal experiences speak directly to issues of national identity and displacement.

Special recognition has been awarded to the following artists:

Grand Prize | 263 Deaths at the Border in 1999 by Juan Barroso

Barroso’s 263 Deaths is a disruption not only in a white wall gallery space, but in any setting. This ceramic installation inherently embodies the duality oftentimes found within the immigrant experience: Not only does this work split the gallery into two spaces, it is both a 3d and 2d art piece. Its repeated use of milk jugs with the added skull straddles the fine line between commodity and necessity, “American” or “foreign,” vessel vs. empty space, life or death.

1st Prize | I’m Trying to Find Myself in Your Faces by Esther Elia | Acrylic on canvas, 2018

I’m Trying to Find Myself in Your Faces by Esher Elia holds a mirror up to the audience by depicting the artist’s family in a colorful, vivid portrait. This painting finds the artist outside of the canvas, confessing to their elders and ancestors that there is a disconnect in comparing the personal lived experience to the collective identity or goal shared by the painting’s subjects. This painting reflects sentiments oftentimes felt by 1st or 2nd generation Americans, attempting their hardest to resonate with their elders’ experiences or perpetually searching for the success or fruits of their ancestors’ labor.

2nd Prize | Immigrant Poem by Mario F. Bocanegra Martinez Video Immigrant Poem

Immigrant Poem transports audiences into the lived experience of an immigrant. The filmmaker experiments with motion and light to create images that personify the loneliness and uncertainty often felt by the travelers who search a better life. While the poem is recited in Spanish, the words seamlessly weave in and out of the frame in English—truly visualizing the sentiments and thoughts felt by a migrant. This moving and deeply resonating short film gifts audiences the notion that seeking a better life is a universal journey.

3rd Prize | Yellow by Bella Kubo

Kubo’s poem Yellow describes the real everyday effects and consequences the social constructs of race can have on American immigrants–in this case considering the lived experiences of Japanese Americans. The juxtaposition between the compelling poem recited by the artist’s voice and the colorful silk-screen prints of a now-famous photograph visualizing the artist’s relative being admitted into an internment camp (shortly after the historic events in Pearl Harbor), brings this intergenerational conversation to the surface. These racist tales are as old as American timezones; this interdisciplinary work is a commemoration to the ancestors and elders, as well as a reminder to younger generations of the unjust past and present violence endured by Asian Americans.