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“Uncaged Art” transformative work by children who crossed a border

“Behind every piece of art was a child desperate to be free.”

–Freddy, a youth detained at the Tornillo Children’s Detention Center, El Paso, Texas, 2018-19

Uncaged Art is an exhibit of large-scale photographs of art made by adolescents, ages 13-17, from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

The exhibit, including educational elements, was organized by members of local cultural and activist organizations. The young artists were detained at the Tornillo Children’s Detention center in El Paso County, Texas, from June 2018 to January 2019.

Justin Hamel

The teenagers were housed in large tents in the desert with no idea when they might be released. A group of local teachers assigned to the shelter invited the youth to create drawings, paintings, knitting, embroidery and clay figures.

In January 2019, the Tornillo Detention Center was dismantled, and many of the youths and children were sent to different centers.

We don’t know what became of them. The artwork they left behind had their names, but the staff erased the names and started to throw the artwork out. Father Rafael Garcia from El Paso’s Sacred Heart Parish, who had said mass at the camp, intervened to prevent the work from being thrown away and forgotten—and so it was saved.

“What came through in the art was the strong spirit of these children who, even under those conditions, were still inspired to do something beautiful.”

—Father Rafael Garcia, priest who saved the children’s art

The exhibit includes paintings, drawings and sculptures that reflect the resiliency, talent and creativity of these young people. Some of them had traveled over 2,000 miles to reach the United States, and many were forcibly separated from their parents at the border.

Olympia became a Sanctuary City in 2017, joining cities and towns around the country. As the crisis on our southern border continues today, they look for opportunities to focus attention on the stories and struggles of thousands of children and adults who continue to seek entrance to the United States and a better life for themselves and their families.

Uncaged Art will be shown in several Olympia locations:

Friday, April 28, 5 pm-9:30 pm, during Arts Walk. Olympia Hotel Balcony

April and May. Books, speakers, films covering immigration. Olympia City Hall

May. View the exhibit all month, plus weekly presentations. Olympia Timberland Library,
second floor and conference room.

Details on the presentation are available at Strengthening Sanctuary Alliance.

See the work at NPR and the Texas Observer.

Organized by: Strengthening Sanctuary Alliance, Familia at TESC, Art Forces. Contact: Anne Fischel, Strengthening Sanctuary Alliance.

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