Every year, art students around the country are asked to produce works about something that inspires them or is meaningful. When the teachers at Tornillo Detention Center in Tornillo, Texas, gave that assignment to the detained immigrant children being held there, their students ― from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador ― created more than 400 pieces of artwork that spoke from their hearts of home and hope.
When the camp closed earlier this year, almost all of the artwork was thrown out. A local priest, Father Rafael Garcia, was able to save 29 selections, which have become the basis of an art exhibit called “Uncaged Art.” From now until Oct. 31, a traveling version of the show is on display at the Mariposa Museum in Peterborough.
“The art is very striking to me. People may talk about how these children were, of course, leaving their home, as it is so horrible there, but their work shows the beauty of their home and their culture and how they do love their country,” said Glen Ring, a retired high school social studies teacher who is currently with the Kent Street Coalition, an advocacy group in Concord. “The works are so fascinating. Many of the pieces have the quetzal bird, who is not supposed to be caged or killed. Some had traditional Mayan symbols, and many had super-vibrant colors.”
The original pieces comprise the “Uncaged Art” exhibit that is currently on display at the Centennial Museum of the University of Texas at El Paso. Once Ring saw the images, she felt their beauty and power speak to her and was moved to create a traveling exhibit that could reach more people by bringing the art to those outside the El Paso area, including here in the Northeast.
“I contacted the people with the original show in El Paso and talked with them and signed an agreement. They already had a professional photographer take pictures, so we fundraised and got the proofs and had them printed and framed. Then we got the text panels from the El Paso show,” Ring said. “Our first show was in Concord, but then we began looking for other places to exhibit. We have found quite a few venues and communicate with them how to display the exhibit, set a goal of fundraising for immigrant rights groups and figure out programming to go with the show.
“It is very timely right now and it seems like a lot of people want to show it. There are two exhibits and they are booked through February.”
One of the exhibits came to the Monadnock Region through the work of the local ad hoc group Lights for Liberty when member Mary Vallier-Kaplan met Glen Ring at a rally in Concord. Vallier-Kaplan is also on the board at the Mariposa and it created a natural connection for bringing the show to the area.
“The exhibit, which is only a small fraction of the art abandoned when these migrant youth were moved out of Tornillo, leaves a lot of unanswered questions,” said Julie Zimmer of Lights for Liberty. “We don’t know where the artists are now, whether they are reunited with family, or what their futures hold.
“But we can literally see their hearts and values in the work they left us. We see their reverence for their culture, natural environment, churches, ancestry and history. Their art holds a message of hope and resilience.”
“What feels most profound to me about this exhibit is the absence of the children themselves in this story,” added Karla Hostetler, executive director of Mariposa Museum. “We know they were there. We see their pictures, and we can easily imagine each child concentrating on his or her work.
“We can wonder about what each must have been thinking as they were asked to draw their memories of home. But where are they now? Where are so many other children who have come to our home seeking a new life? And if we don’t know the answer to that, why don’t we know?
“Those are the questions that haunt this exhibit. The Mariposa team is glad to have the space to bring the children and this issue to more people and we hope it encourages them to get involved.”
To further the conversation for anyone who sees the art and wants to learn more or do more, the Mariposa will host a follow-up presentation Oct. 22 at 6:30 p.m. featuring three speakers from here in New Hampshire – one each from the American Friends Service Committee, the United Valley Interfaith Project and Project Home – who are involved in local immigration issues and can help attendees better understand immigration as seen in this state and how to take action if they feel so moved.
“I hope that after seeing the show visitors will come on the 22nd and engage in conversation about where we are in New Hampshire and where we are going,” Zimmer said. “The show is the inspiration and the meeting is the empowerment and connection.”
To learn more about the “Uncaged Art” exhibit at the Mariposa Museum and World Culture Center, call 924-4555 or visit mariposamuseum.org/event/exhibit-uncaged-art.