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Exhibitions and Events

New installation at U-M inspired by US 'zero tolerance' immigration policy

By Stephanie Harrell

Oshki 1

En español

ANN ARBOR—A new installation at the University of Michigan’s Institute for the Humanities portrays the experience of migrant families being separated and detained at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Yo Tengo Nombre” [I Have a Name] will be on view Sept. 19-Oct. 31. The paintings are part of artist Ruth Leonela Buentello’s “Zero Tolerance” series, inspired by incidents that took place after the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy and the subsequent treatment of migrant individuals caught on news media.

“We Need Borders” by Ruth Leonela Buentello (acrylic on canvas).

An interdisciplinary artist from San Antonio, Buentello centers her work on her Xicana identity, exploring familial relationships, gender, gender identity, patriarchy and—as the daughter of Mexican immigrants—responses to current issues of immigration. 

For this series, Buentello asked her family to imagine themselves in the place of the migrants and to empathize and act out moments that other families have experienced crossing the border. Her aim was to mirror the horror her family feels when they see images of families resembling their own suffering hardship.

“Family and immigration enforcement are personal to many of us with migrant roots,” Buentello said. 

Through her paintings, she speaks to the connection between domestic space and public space, and shows that family and immigration enforcement are personal to many with migrant roots.

“Buentello’s work combines intimacy with urgency, conveying deeply personal reflections about family, community, personhood and place,” said Amanda Krugliak, curator and assistant director of arts programming at the U-M Institute for the Humanities

“The works honor the handmade and the integrity of labor, expressed through the physicality and directness of painting, assemblage and embroidery. This incorporation of traditional themes and methodology in her practice also upends those themes. Almost tactical, each stroke and stitch is a covert revolution.” 

Buentello is the 2019 Efroymson Emerging Artist in Residence. This project is supported by a grant from the Efroymson Family Fund.

An opening exhibition reception and interview with Buentello will take place at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 19, at the Institute for the Humanities Gallery, located at 202 S. Thayer St. in Ann Arbor. The gallery is free and open to the public 9 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays.


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