It is a simple installation of green and red LED wires strung up in a darkened space to suggest a room with four doorways.
The piece is entitled “Trespassers” (in French, the term “tres passer” could also mean “many passes or passages”) and was created by Parisian artist Daniel Assayag, who was born in Morocco and is of Arab and Berber-Jewish heritage. His simple yet powerful work is part of the exhibit “Resistant Currents” opening Saturday, July 28, at the Mills Gallery at The Boston Center for the Arts, exploring the timely and provocative subject of national migration policies, notions of assimilation, citizenship and national identity.
“I want to express hope, sensuality and violence,” says Assayag of “Trespassers” which is lit in the colors of the Moroccan flag.
Assayag’s piece is just one of about two dozen works being exhibited by seven artists who have lived through, in very personal ways, themes related to immigration and identity.
Boston artist Yu-Wen Wu’s family immigrated to the U.S. from Taiwan after the enactment of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, otherwise known as the Hart-Celler Act, which abolished national origins formulas previously in place restricting immigration from Asia and Africa. (Unsurprisingly, immigrants coming from Northern and Western Europe were given preference.)
Her “Moon Series,” created between 2014 and 2017, is based on interviews Wu had with a woman she identifies by the letter “M.” The woman, only 14 when she lost her entire family in the Chinese Civil War, traveled by night from China to Taiwan, using the phases of the moon to mark the passage of time during her crossing. It took her 12 full moons to finally reach the island of Taiwan.
Yemeni artist Layle Omeran, who now lives in Boston, forms part of Za’faraan, a “Queer SWANA Immigrant Zine” (SWANA stands for South West Asia and North Africa). Their collective work is shown, along with the drawings of Omeran, who shows large portraits of queer Yemeni migrants, done in Arabic calligraphy accompanied by poems Omeran wrote.
“Migrants, gendered Yemenis (women and folks of feminine expression), queers, and definitely the combination of all three, rarely take up any public, visible space and are often extensively censored across spaces of belonging; our bodies often becoming sites of exile and resistance at the same time,” Omeran says. The artist has cleverly combined traditional calligraphy and Arabic letters to create drawings that function as a form of resistance to “censorship and colonialist attitudes.”
“Resistant Currents” was curated by Jeannie Simms, artist and director of Graduate Studies at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University, who has long held an interest in issues of migration and who herself does work revolving around these themes.
Artists like Omeran, Assayag and the others, she says, are “part of a movement of contemporary artists who are helping us re-imagine alternative political futures.”