Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

World

Detained migrants’ trash inspires US janitor’s art

-

During a decade as a janitor at a US border station, Tom Kiefer gathered the trash left behind by thousands of undocumented immigrants, piecing together the histories of those who arrived seeking a better life.

Everyday objects from clothes, medicine and toys to handwritten letters were confiscated by officials as dangerous or "non-essential" items, leaving photography student Kiefer to sift through fragments of their owners' struggles.

"El Sueno Americano/The American Dream", at Los Angeles's Skirball Cultural Center through March, displays more than 100 photographs of these remnants, which the artist collected in secret at the Ajo, Arizona station between 2003 and 2014.

One photograph in
One photograph in "The American Dream" captures migrants' cell phones of all shapes, sizes and technologies spanning a decade
Robyn Beck, AFP

From a distance, many of the works look like abstract modern art, but peer more closely and the contents become clear: in one, dozens of syringes and cartons containing pills and ointments are carefully laid out across a bright yellow canvas.

Close by, around 50 toothbrushes -- some extremely worn-out and filthy -- are arranged on a blue background.

Another photograph captures cell phones of all shapes, sizes and technologies spanning the decade.

For Dominga Rodriguez, a 48-year-old who crossed through the desert from Mexico's Oaxaca state almost 30 years ago, it is easy to picture the faces of these items' owners.

"El Sueno Americano/The American Dream", at Los Angeles's Skirball Cultural Center through March 2020, displays more than 100 photographs of items the artist collected in secret
Robyn Beck, AFP/File

"It's emotional because I also came in the same way," she told AFP as she visited the exhibition, her voice cracking. "We left our clothes, combs, wallets, phone numbers, not knowing if we were coming back or not."

Every year, hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants are detained while crossing into the US from Mexico.

"One of the things I think these photographs remind us of is that even small injustices can be the first step on a path towards things that are totally inhumane," said curator Laura Mart.

"It may seem like not a big deal to take away somebody's shoelaces or to take away somebody's toothbrush," she said.

"But when you start doing that, it makes you accept that treating people that way is OK -- then before you know it, it leads to things like children separation."

Dominga Rodriguez  48  originally from Mexico  and her son Chris Cruz  21  view a photograph in whic...
Dominga Rodriguez, 48, originally from Mexico, and her son Chris Cruz, 21, view a photograph in which cartons containing pills and ointments are carefully laid out across a bright yellow canvas
Robyn Beck, AFP/File

A Trump administration "zero tolerance" policy launched in 2018 saw thousands of children separated from their parents at the border, a tactic apparently meant to frighten the families, before the government backed down amid a torrent of criticism.

Tough border controls are a focus of President Donald Trump's re-election campaign.

Mart highlighted a photograph of rubber ducks, some caked in mud -- a seemingly sentimental choice, but with a pragmatic purpose.

"Rubber ducks were used to mark the trail," she explained.

"They were used for navigation so that groups of migrants can find their way through the cactus and through the brush."

During a decade as a janitor at a US border station, Tom Kiefer gathered the trash left behind by thousands of undocumented immigrants, piecing together the histories of those who arrived seeking a better life.

Everyday objects from clothes, medicine and toys to handwritten letters were confiscated by officials as dangerous or “non-essential” items, leaving photography student Kiefer to sift through fragments of their owners’ struggles.

“El Sueno Americano/The American Dream”, at Los Angeles’s Skirball Cultural Center through March, displays more than 100 photographs of these remnants, which the artist collected in secret at the Ajo, Arizona station between 2003 and 2014.

One photograph in

One photograph in “The American Dream” captures migrants' cell phones of all shapes, sizes and technologies spanning a decade
Robyn Beck, AFP

From a distance, many of the works look like abstract modern art, but peer more closely and the contents become clear: in one, dozens of syringes and cartons containing pills and ointments are carefully laid out across a bright yellow canvas.

Close by, around 50 toothbrushes — some extremely worn-out and filthy — are arranged on a blue background.

Another photograph captures cell phones of all shapes, sizes and technologies spanning the decade.

For Dominga Rodriguez, a 48-year-old who crossed through the desert from Mexico’s Oaxaca state almost 30 years ago, it is easy to picture the faces of these items’ owners.

“El Sueno Americano/The American Dream”, at Los Angeles's Skirball Cultural Center through March 2020, displays more than 100 photographs of items the artist collected in secret
Robyn Beck, AFP/File

“It’s emotional because I also came in the same way,” she told AFP as she visited the exhibition, her voice cracking. “We left our clothes, combs, wallets, phone numbers, not knowing if we were coming back or not.”

Every year, hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants are detained while crossing into the US from Mexico.

“One of the things I think these photographs remind us of is that even small injustices can be the first step on a path towards things that are totally inhumane,” said curator Laura Mart.

“It may seem like not a big deal to take away somebody’s shoelaces or to take away somebody’s toothbrush,” she said.

“But when you start doing that, it makes you accept that treating people that way is OK — then before you know it, it leads to things like children separation.”

Dominga Rodriguez  48  originally from Mexico  and her son Chris Cruz  21  view a photograph in whic...

Dominga Rodriguez, 48, originally from Mexico, and her son Chris Cruz, 21, view a photograph in which cartons containing pills and ointments are carefully laid out across a bright yellow canvas
Robyn Beck, AFP/File

A Trump administration “zero tolerance” policy launched in 2018 saw thousands of children separated from their parents at the border, a tactic apparently meant to frighten the families, before the government backed down amid a torrent of criticism.

Tough border controls are a focus of President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign.

Mart highlighted a photograph of rubber ducks, some caked in mud — a seemingly sentimental choice, but with a pragmatic purpose.

“Rubber ducks were used to mark the trail,” she explained.

“They were used for navigation so that groups of migrants can find their way through the cactus and through the brush.”

AFP
Written By

With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

You may also like:

Business

A new phishing campaign uses HTML attachments that abuse the Windows search protocol.

World

Too little has been done for too long. This may well be the first instalment of the payoff.

World

The most expensive city was found to be London, followed by Amsterdam, Chicago, Oslo and Edinburgh.

World

Moscow has intensified attacks in the eastern Donetsk region - Copyright AFP/File Ted ALJIBELéa Dauple and Mykola ZavgorodniyVolodymyr Zelensky, a 66-year-old namesake of the...