ArtRage Gallery takes on issues of immigration in exhibition

"Living in Limbo: Portraits from the Border" is on view at ArtRage

The show tackles issues of immigration through Bill McLaughlin photographs.
Published: October 14, 2021
Alternative Text
Mural and Border Wall at “Friendship Park”

Artrage’s newest exhibition, Living in Limbo: Portraits from the Border, embodies the hope and fear of every immigrant seeking asylum. The collection of over 20 photos displays the struggles and dreams of migrants in Tijuana, Mexico.

The artist Bill McLaughlin traveled to the border and spent weeks with those affected by the 2019 change in US policy; learning their stories and taking their portraits. This US policy is also known as The Remain in Mexico policy, in which the US government returned asylum-seekers to Mexico to wait through the duration of their immigration cases – leaving many stranded for months or even years.

McLaughlin left his home in Chenango County and traveled to the border after learning about the death of Martínez Ramírez and his 23-month-old daughter, Valeria, who drowned together while trying to cross the Río Grande.  McLaughlin wished to capture real photos that held emotion and understanding, rather than ones that told an obscured story: painting migrants out to be criminals and intensifying stereotypes.

Once in Tijuana, McLaughlin worked with BorderAngels, a non-profit organization that works on migrants’ rights along the border. Connecting with families and individuals along the border, McLaughlin learned of the struggles facing those struck by the harshened immigration laws. Many families had traveled far but were left with nowhere to go. They were faced with three options: to turn back, to wait, or swim around the border wall. Many try to paddle their way around the wall dividing Mexico and the US, but most do not make it to the other side. Often, they are overtaken by the tides, fog, or strict US guard. Despite the danger, many people feel they have no other choice.

Living in Limbo captures the indecision many face, but what sets McLaughlin’s portraits apart, is the essence of hope detailed in the eyes and faces of those pictured.

Woman with her toddler-age son on her right hip and her left hand draped over her small daughter holding her close. All looking at the camera.

Esmerelda, Pamela & Edwin, Michoacan, Mexico

close-up of a boy shot from above grinning at the camera

Marcos Antonio, Honduras

Community Engagement Organizer, Kim Mccoy, who has worked at the gallery for eleven years, said she chooses exhibitions that feature important and timely subjects in a variety of mediums from local to international artists. 

“[There is a] need for understanding the situation and why there are so many people looking for asylum in our country,” said Mccoy. “How can we as a nation of immigrants work to create a more peaceful world?” 

The exhibition walks the line between heartbreaking and hopeful. Despite the grueling obstacles and strenuous circumstances impacting these families, McLaughlin manages to capture the aspirations that never fade. The pipeline dream lives on within all of the men, women, and children photographed. 

McLaughlin’s portraits are honest and he understands the challenges many immigrants and asylum seekers face. Only first names accompany his images because he said many of the subjects were hesitant about having their portraits taken. Many of the subjects are fleeing dangerous situations and fear the possible consequences if they are identified. Yet, they pose for the pictures. They stand and communicate their ideals and grievances through their portraits. 

Claire Zehnith, an art history senior and ArtRage intern, helped to set up the online version of the exhibition. Zehnith said that the issues captured in the exhibition are especially important for people to understand and pay attention because of the lack of current media coverage. Immigration was a hot topic during the Trump Administration and issues such as these received a lot of attention. Now that there is a new president, new issues are being talked about and immigration and border control received their time in the headlines.

“It is still going on, it is still happening, people are still there,”  Zehnith said.

The loss of attention does not equal a loss of importance.

Living in Limbo will be on display until Oct. 30, 2021.

Additionally, you can reserve free tickets for next week’s event where reporters Jim McKeever and Nina Wickett will share their experiences traveling to and from the US Southern Border, meeting asylum seekers, and working with advocacy groups. This event will take place on Thursday, Oct. 21 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

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is a magazine, news and digital journalism freshman from Seattle and contributor for The NewsHouse.