Continuing through September 16, 2018
“Yearning to Breathe Free” is an empathetic exhibition, referencing the journeys and plights of Latin American immigrants striving — and often failing — to enter our country. The show’s title and individual pieces are inspired by the sonnet, “The New Colossus,” composed by Emma Lazarus in 1883, and engraved on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. “Give me your tired, your poor / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” read its most familiar couplet. The exhibition’s deeper intention comes from Nery Gabriel Lemus’ experiences growing up in Los Angeles with Guatemalan immigrant parents, while personally experiencing prejudice, stereotyping and separation from society’s mainstream. He further addresses issues that immigrants face while journeying to this country, then after arriving here.
The show’s centerpiece is a rug, “A Memorial to Three Unknown Females.” Composed of 15 painted welcome mats that resemble a Guatemalan sawdust rug, it contains the words “Unknown Female,” three times, followed by numbers, referencing women who have perished during their journeys here. Two poignant watercolors, “Dreaming #1” and “Dreaming #2,” depict an immigrant man and woman facing outward, with their eyes closed. Expressed here is that immigrants often “dream” of a better world. “Dreaming” also refers to the Dream Act, which would enable undocumented immigrant children to be granted conditional residency.
The watercolor “Immigrant Landscape #2” illustrates a casement window in a home where immigrants wait until it is safe to cross the border. A note on the window reading, “Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,” from “The New Colossus,” connotes the Statue of Liberty’s often compromised compassionate spirit. “Immigrant Landscape #6” depicts four Trump border wall samples set against an azure blue sky, beautifying in order to diminish the power of divisiveness. The ceramic tablets of “Tetelestai #1, #2, #3 and #4” are affixed to ceramic posts, and painted in the colors of Latin American flags. Written on the tablets are narratives expressing heartfelt thoughts of immigrants and their children. A narrative by Lemus reads in part, “She married my father and worked cleaning houses to provide for my brother and me. I am thankful for her sacrifice.”