Michelle Angela Ortiz exposes injustice of immigrant detention

Award-winning visual artist Michelle Angela Ortiz  unveils Phase 3 of her “Familias Separadas” public art project, as a three large-scale public art installations in North Carolina (Artspace, 201 E Davie St, Raleigh, NC 27601), New Hampshire (Dover Friends Meeting House, 141 Central Ave, Dover, NH 03820) , and Colorado (Redline Contemporary Art Center, 2350 Arapahoe St, Denver, CO 80205). The project focuses on the stories of families living in the United States and how they have been impacted by detention and deportations. 

The series of large-scale, site-specific public art installations visualizes the testimonials of community members that have experienced detention, are in sanctuary, or have experienced family separation or deportation. 

Immigrant detention falls into the larger issue of mass incarceration that targets Brown and Black communities. Each installation site was chosen to call attention to nearby detention centers: Wake County Detention Center, Strafford Detention Center, and Aurora Detention Center, and highlight that our unjust immigration policies do not begin at the border, they spread throughout our nation. We must eliminate immigrant detention centers and reimagine a system that values the human rights of undocumented immigrant communities.

Installed in June of 2021, each public artwork contains a QR code for viewers to read and hear the stories told first hand by the community participants and learn ways to take action. The stories, photographs, and writings can be found here. Throughout the year, community members in North Carolina, New Hampshire and Colorado have engaged in several virtual meetings that included story circles, theatre and playwriting techniques, photography and visual art sessions focused on healing from past trauma caused by our broken immigration system.  

The project’s Creative Team led by Ortiz includes Playwright Paul Flores, Peter Marin (NC), Grace Kindeke (NH), and Jonathan DeCamps (CO). MomsRising/ MamasConPoder was the national connector to the project’s local community partners that include Diamante Arts and Cultural Center, American Friends Service Committee New Hampshire, and Sanctuary for All. Funding for the project is provided by the Art for Justice Fund and in part by the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation.

Michelle Angela Ortiz, “Familias Separadas,” North Carolina installation

About Michelle Angela Ortiz

Michelle Angela Ortiz (recently featured in the New York Times) is a Philadelphia-based visual artist, skilled muralist, community arts educator, and filmmaker who uses her art as a vehicle to represent people and communities whose histories are often lost or co-opted. Through community arts practices, painting, documentaries, and public art installations, she creates a safe space for dialogue around some of the most profound issues communities and individuals may face. Her work tells stories using richly crafted and emotive imagery to claim and transform spaces into a visual affirmation that reveals the strength and spirit of the community. 

For 20 years, Ortiz has designed and created over 50 large-scale public works nationally and internationally. Since 2008, Ortiz has led art for social change public art projects in Costa Rica & Ecuador and as a Cultural Envoy through the US Embassy in Fiji, Mexico, Argentina, Spain, Venezuela, Honduras, and Cuba. In 2018, Ortiz created the “Las Madres de Berks” documentary that shares the testimonials of four mothers that were detained for two years with their children at The Berks County Residential Center in Pennsylvania. Berks is the first of three prisons that detains families, including babies, seeking asylum in the United States. 

Ortiz is a 2020 Art For Justice Fund Grantee, PEW Fellow,  Rauschenberg Foundation Artist as Activist Fellow, and a Kennedy Center Citizen Artist National Fellow. In 2016, she received the Americans for the Arts’ Public Art Year in Review Award which honors outstanding public art projects in the nation.

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