Art

Rethinking What Passes for Normal Amid the “Trump Revolution”

A yearlong series at the Bronx Documentary Center shows how nativist US immigration policies have affected people from many different walks of life.

Central American migrants walk on the outskirts of Huixtla, Chiapas, Mexico on October 24, 2018 (photo by Luis Antonio Rojas, all images courtesy Bronx Documentary Center)

As the Bronx Documentary Center puts it, the “Trump Revolution” is the ongoing upheaval in American politics and society “whose speed, reach and consequences are unmatched in our country’s history.” The center’s yearlong series of exhibitions on this phenomenon kicks off with Trump Revolution: Immigrationa photographic survey of how the Trump administration’s nativist immigration policies have affected people from many different walks of US life.

Anyone reasonably informed about current events won’t be surprised by the installation, which mainly recapitulates the past three years of heinous developments in this realm — the administration’s ban on immigration from select Muslim-majority countries, the bolstering of both the US/Mexico border wall and increased border patrols, the 2018 caravan of Central American migrants who were used as a wedge issue in the election, etc. There’s even a timeline running along the top of the walls of the exhibition space to help refresh visitors’ memories. Information, though, is not really the point. There’s a numbing effect to the all-encompassing cruelty we’re inundated with on a daily basis in the US.  The exhibition refocuses these broad topics and events through specific, personal stories.

Sisters Daniela, 9 (left), and Dulce, 10 (right), wait for their hair to dry in a church pew. They live with their brother and mother in sanctuary at Episcopal Church of Holyrood in New York City, avoiding deportation to Guatemala. (Photo by Cinthya Santos-Briones, Manhattan, October 20, 2017)

Curated by Cynthia Rivera and Michael Kamber, Trump Revolution brings together an array of talented photographers who have visited different areas to capture the effects of these government policies. Adding to this theme, the Magnum Photos series LINEA: The Border Project is also on view at the BDC’s nearby annex. We see many variations on the US/Mexico wall, from the rusted fence that runs through the ironically named Friendship Park between San Diego and Tijuana, to US residents who have the wall running through their backyards (sometimes to their approval). We visit myriad undocumented immigrants, from caravan members to arrestees to a family that’s taken refuge from deportation in a Washington Heights church. In one alcove, a computer monitor plays the short documentary Let Them Have Water, about the efforts of humanitarian organizations to aid people risking their lives crossing the desert.

Olga Camacho and her granddaughter visit Olga’s son Jonathan at the US/Mexico border fence. Jonathan benefited from DACA, and has been able to stay and work in the US legally. However, he cannot leave the country and return freely. Olga and Jonathan have been separated for 13 years. (photo by Griselda San Martin)

If there’s a unifying feeling to these disparate landscapes, it’s a heightened, almost surreal sense of the atrocity that now passes for normal in the US. (It’s something just south of hypernormalization.) Two sisters sit in a pew as their hair dries, because they live in a church. A portion of the border wall designed to float on the sand snakes its way through the Sonoran Desert, looking perversely beautiful in the magic hour light. Being confronted with such imagery hopefully makes the visitor reconsider what they think of as “normal” today — a reminder to fight such injustices.

Nicknamed “The Sand Dragon” by border patrol agents, this seven-mile, $40 million section of the US/Mexico border wall in California is designed to shift above the ever-changing sands of the Algodones Dunes (photo by Elliot Ross)

Trump Revolution: Immigration is on view at the Bronx Documentary Center (614 Courtlandt Ave, The Bronx) through March 29. The Center will continue to host exhibitions in the Trump Revolution series throughout the year. Subsequent themes will be nationalism, climate change, foreign policy, and the media.

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