March 28, 2023
By Gallery & Curatorial Fellows Aria Cooper, Bella Santos, and Calla Savelson
Paola de la Calle’s work explores themes of identity, home, and borders. Her work provokes reflection surrounding people’s relationships to themselves, their communities, and their negative and positive impacts on their communities. Paola created five quilts with Bay Area Galería de la Raza as an artistic medium for socio-political transformation in the Caravan for the Children Campaign, a 100-day movement to reunite families separated by American border control during the implementation of the Zero-Tolerance Policy.
Under the 45th President’s Administration, the Zero-Tolerance Policy criminally prosecuted any individuals that illegally crossed the Mexico-U.S. border. The policy also immediately separated any parents from their children, no matter their age. In February 2021, the Biden Administration formed an Interagency Task Force for the Reunification of families that had been separated under the Zero-Tolerance Policy of the former administration. The goals of the Task Force were to identify and implement strategies that would reunify families, while also providing them with physical and psychological support. On August 1, 2021 the Task Force reported that because of the Zero-Tolerance Policy, 3,914 children were separated from their families at the United States-Mexico Border between July 2017 and January 2021. Prior to the organization of the Task Force, it was reported that 2,031 children had been placed back with their families because of the efforts of Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs). As of January 2023, the Task Force has reunified 599 children with their families, while 1,008 children still remain separated.*
Galería de la Raza is located in San Francisco and was founded by Chicano artists in the 70’s with the purpose of bringing artistic visibility to their culture and advocating for socio-political awareness within their community. The Gallery has a long standing relationship with Paola de la Calle and they were both moved to support the Caravan for the Children Campaign. Accompanied by the artistic expertise of Paola De La Calle, Galería de la Raza launched an open call for literary artists inside and outside of the United States who explored themes tied to migration and borders in their work. After numerous people applied, Galería de la Raza selected ten of these creatives to participate in the Gallery’s Lunada Literary Lounge, which was a literary and spoken word virtual gathering. After the Literary Lounge, Galería de la Raza selected excerpts from what each literary artist shared to incorporate into Paola’s quilts. Each quilt included a creative synthesis of media, photography, literary and art documentation to explore the campaign’s call to action to “Uncage, Reunify, and Heal.”
Galería de la Raza places healing at the center of its mission, making sure to incorporate messages of victory in the same space where there are messages of trauma; this objective was reflected in the quilts. They did not want to re-traumatize the community. Rather, their goal was to show that their community could live in joy after trauma and that the trauma did not define them. The five quilts measure a total of 630 square feet, representing the number of children still separated from their families at the time of the Caravan. Art was deployed as a means for activism when the quilts were first unveiled in Washington D.C. at the May Day March in 2021 as a part of one of the Caravan’s advocacy trips.
After the quilts journeyed to Washington D.C, they were taken back to San Francisco and were installed as a temporary exhibition for the public. Galería de la Raza was especially intentional about making their exhibition accessible to everyone in their community. As Ivette Diaz, the Gallery’s Curatorial Programs Coordinator put it, “If your grandma can’t understand the work, it’s not accessible.” Entry to the exhibition is free and all curatorial elements are translated in Spanish and English. It is important to the Gallery that visitors have a voice and can do something about the border crisis rather than just witness it. Additionally, Galería de la Raza included a postcard station at the end of the exhibition where visitors could write messages about their response to Paola’s work. The Gallery was eventually able to connect with the Task Force to give them thousands of postcards with messages of empathy and expressions of pain for those at the border. During Galería de la Raza’s trip to Washington D.C., they were able to use art to amplify and heal the community that Paola’s quilts were dedicated to. The work of Paola de la Calle in collaboration with Galería de la Raza is a testament to the power of art in the context of political activism.
For additional images/information about the Uncage, Reunify, and Heal quilts, visit http://www.paoladelacalle.com/uncagereunifyheal-quilts