Exposing Migration: The Spirit of the American Dream
February 8, 2020 - March 5, 2020
New photography exhibit spotlights migrant journey at the U.S.-Mexico border
Photojournalist Tish Lampert has spent her career documenting human rights battles across the globe. Her latest body of work examines human rights questions much closer to home. “Exposing Migration: The Spirit of the American Dream” illustrates what it’s like to travel along the U.S.-Mexico border — and elevates the humanity that’s often lost in polarized, politicized discussions about immigration, asylum and security.
The exhibit opens with a free public reception Saturday, February 8, from 3 to 5 p.m. The show runs through March 5 in the José Drudis-Biada Art Gallery on Mount Saint Mary’s University’s Chalon Campus.
The opening reception also marks the public debut of Lampert’s new book, “We Protest: Fighting For What We Believe In,” which will be published March 5 by Rizzoli. The book captures the recent wave of social and civic activism that’s washed across America and profiles everyday activists fighting for social justice.
Putting a human face on migration
Nearly a decade in the making, Lampert’s photography exhibit includes images of barriers along our sun-scorched southern border — walls, fences, steel and razor wire — contrasted with intimate depictions of families striving to navigate the divide. The pairing is intentional.
“It feels like we most often look at the story of migration from a detention perspective here in the U.S.,” she says. “We’re not often looking at this story as a journey. We’re avoiding the moments and flashpoints that would bring us into the story. Taking that angle inspires a more human reaction and an ability to relate — maybe even a desire to help.”
Most of the images selected for the show focus on individual faces, especially those of Central American refugees forced to wait on the Mexican side of the border as they apply for asylum to the United States. In one photograph, children in a temporary Tijuana shelter practice writing letters thanks to a classroom on wheels. In another, separated sisters hug during a three-minute visit at the border’s now-closed “Door of Hope.” And in another, volunteers carry small, wooden crosses to the Holtville, Calif., cemetery where hundreds of unknown migrants are buried — migrants who died on their journey northward.
That women and children feature prominently in Lampert’s exhibit shouldn’t be surprising considering they've been a focal point of her globe-spanning work with organizations like the Conflict Awareness Project, Doctors Without Borders and The Africa Project, as well as California-based nonprofits Gente Unida and the Creative Visions Foundation. She also spent five years as media director and photographer for the United Nations’ Voices of African Mothers program.
Lampert’s exhibit has found an appropriate venue at Mount Saint Mary’s University, L.A.’s only women’s university. Eighty-three percent of the University’s undergraduate population are women of color, the majority of whom are Latinas and first-generation college students. Many know the migrant journey very well from family members’ experiences — or their own.
“It’s an honor to present this exhibit at a university where immigrants’ rights and contributions are so celebrated,” Lampert says. She says she’s intrigued to see how students and others respond to her images. For her part, Lampert says her time on the border has left her more hopeful.
“Because I’ve seen all these determined, hopeful faces,” she says. “I’ve met and worked with activists, lawyers and refugees. They inspire me. The world can exhaust you but people can give you reason to believe, too. Artists need to capture that. If art can convey the triumph of the human spirit right now, we’ve done our job.”
‘Artists, Advocates, Dreamers’
To that end, a concurrent exhibit in the gallery will respond to Lampert’s work, offering additional entry points to the migration story. “Artists, Advocates, Dreamers” features 27 artists working in a variety of mediums. The artists come from a broad range of backgrounds — from Central America to the Middle East to Eastern Europe — to illuminate the complexity of identity and migration. Like Lampert, each participating artist has a history of social justice advocacy that inspires and informs their art.
Both shows are curated by Sofia Gutiérrez '92, a Mount Saint Mary’s alumna. A longtime art educator at museums across Southern California, Gutiérrez is now the associate director of education and community engagement at the UCI Institute and Museum of California Art. In 2018, she curated the acclaimed 60-artist exhibit, “The Art of Protest: Epiphany and the Culture of Empowerment,” which also showcased Lampert’s work.
“Exposing Migration: The Spirit of the American Dream” photography exhibit. Featured artist: Tish Lampert.
“Artists, Advocates, Dreamers” mixed-media exhibit. Artists include Alicia Sterling Beach, Carolyn Castaño, Khodr Cherri, Nicole Cohen, Ismel de Anda III, Eszter Delgado, Isaias Delgado, Gustavo Alberto García Vaca, Mario Gutierrez, Jose Luis Hernandez, Ann Higgins, John Ildefonzo, Beatriz Jaramillo, Kristy Kang, John C. Lewis, Stephen Linsley, Veronica Preciado, Amy Putman, Ricardo Reyes, Bruce Richards, Victor Solis, Marianne Sadowski, Albert Valdez, Beatriz Valls, Arturo Vizcaino Cortes, Brenda Zozaya.
When: Feb. 8 through March 5, 2020
Opening reception: Feb. 8, 2020, 3-5 p.m.
Jose Drudis-Biada Art Gallery
Mount Saint Mary’s University
12001 Chalon Road
Los Angeles, CA 90049
Hours: Monday-Thursday and Saturday, noon-5 p.m.; free to the public