IllinoisHumanities

What is the relationship between social conditioning, immigration, deportation, and incarceration?

This is the subject OPEN Center for the Arts students explored for weeks in a series of art classes such as filmmaking, theater, poster design, and comics. Students learned the basic components of these art mediums and used them to create narratives about social conditioning, deportation, and incarceration that were featured in OPEN’s latest exhibition, “Inside the MIND: Control & Conditioning”.

The theme sparked from an interest in how people are behaviorally conditioned since birth and are continuously affected by outside institutions and individuals. The artwork designed in the classes raises awareness and starts a dialogue about people’s feelings toward immigrants and deportation in connection to incarceration.

“The students were able to connect with these ideas and create these beautiful pieces that make statements about where they are, what’s possible, and how things should be,” explained Haman Cross, teaching artist at OPEN. “This is the reality, this is the world these children are being raised in, and we gotta go there and be vulnerable.”

As a neighborhood primarily made of Mexican and undocumented immigrants, the residents of Little Village have been impacted by the constant fear around deportation and incarceration. Businesses have been affected by the lack of activity around the neighborhood because people are afraid to leave their homes. Community groups have even developed defense networks for undocumented immigrants due to distrust in the authorities.

Among the presentations that took place during the exhibit’s opening on Friday, February 8, were a theatrical performance written by the theater students and a couple of short films produced by filmmaking students. They featured the personal immigration stories of two local residents.

Attendees at the opening night described the children’s artwork as impactful and eye opening.

“It’s incredible that they can see all this going on and it’s sad, too, that they’re aware of this and their families are impacted by it,” said Nathalia, a student at UChicago.

For many students in the comics and poster design classes, the design process began by initiating, sometimes difficult, conversations with their parents and families about their personal experiences with immigration and deportation for the first time.

“OPEN Center for the Arts is a way our voices can be shared,” Haman said. “Art can help us connect and imagine a world, imagine a country, where we are re-envisioning justice and trying to understand what we need to do to have a world where we’re safe. Where we can grow. Where we can create. Where we can have a voice, freely, and create the type of world we want to live in.”

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A live performance at the event.