A new exhibit at the University of Virginia has offered artists who identify as “undocumented” a place to showcase their work, and soon the exhibit organizers will be offering a place for those artists to create as well.
The new exhibit at UVa’s Ruffin Gallery called “Aesthetics of Undocumentedness” is now open to the public. And, later this summer, the exhibit’s organizers will launch what they are calling the first artist residency uniquely designed for so-called undocumented creatives.
“It’s the first of its kind to fund someone regardless of their status,” exhibit curator Erika Hirugami, a first-generation immigrant from Mexico who was previously undocumented herself, told The Daily Progress.
Hirugami, who lives in Los Angeles, is the founder and CEO of CuratorLove, an advocacy group for undocumented artists. She said she has been working on the “Aesthetics of Undocumentednes” exhibit with UVa assistant art professor and co-founder of the UNDOC+Collective at UVa Federico Cuatlacuatl for more than a year.
“Immediately, we recognized that there’s an urgency to bring together these artists who have lived through the experiences of undocumentedness and continue to live with that,” Cuatlacuatl, who is also a featured in the exhibit alongside 10 other artists, told The Daily Progress.
The exhibit features a variety of work: sculptural, painted and photographed.
Hirugami and Cuatlacuatl both said that it was important that the exhibit reflect the diversity that exists within the undocumented community, not just a diversity of medium.
“Undocumentedness is not a monolith,” Hirugami said. “There are a lot of beautiful things within migration that should be celebrated.”
“It says precisely that the migrant, undocumented community in this country is not monolithic,” said Cuatlacuatl, “that everyone brings their own personal history, narrative and experience.”
Of the 11 artists featured in the Ruffin Gallery, all have either been undocumented at some point in their lives or close to someone who has not had documentation in this country, according to Hirugami. They represent about seven ancestries, she said, most of Latin descent.
Hirugami said that too often the undocumented story is portrayed – by artists who are not undocumented themselves – as a story of suffering.
“Every single artist in the exhibition’s artwork deals with undocumentedness, not from a point of pain but from a point of celebrating ancestry and cherishing their immigration journey,” she said.
Since 2012, the federal policy known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals has delayed the deportation of people under the age of 31 living within the United States illegally. More than 610,000 people make up the current DACA population, according to 2022 figures from Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Hirugami, who was on the DACA list herself, said she is sensitive to the fact that the first generation of applicants are adults now and need additional support than what the government can or will provide them.
The new artist residency at UVa can provide at least some assistance to creatives from that community who have little or no access to the funds or support necessary to pursue a career in the arts, Hirugami and Cuatlacuatl said.
“In our community, education is also a huge privilege, and so often, art school is really expensive,” she said.
Hirugami said the residency is the first of its kind, offering specific support for undocumented artists.
Her organization CuratorLove and Cuatlacuatl’s organization UNDOC+Collective will announce the resident in the spring before they begin working at the Visible Records studio and gallery in Charlottesville’s Carlton neighborhood in the summer.
The “Aesthetics of Undocumentedness” exhibit will remain open to the public from Jan. 27 to Feb. 17 in the Ruffin Gallery at UVa.
Artists featured include Jackie Amézquita, Felipe Baeza, David Cuatlacuatl, Francisco Donoso, Fidencio Fifield-Perez, Guadalupe Maravilla, Isidro pérez garcía, Nancy E. Rivera, Luis Sahagun and Nicole Solis-Sison.