‘Detention Nation’ an Arresting Exhibit
GALLERY CONFRONTS IMMIGRATION POLICIES
Total immersion is the goal of Museo de las Americas’ Detention Nation exhibition. Hosting art made from razor wire and metal fencing, this gallery demands complete attention from its patrons.
Created by a group of artists who call themselves Sin Huellas (“without a trace” when translated from Spanish), Detention Nation uses documentary loops and riveting personal narratives from the Joe Corley Detention Facility, alongside its art pieces, to establish a dialogue about the failures of US immigration law.
“The Collective Sin Huellas has taken custody of this museum and has entrapped you, the viewer,” reads the entrance wall’s large and looming vinyl lettering. These words accurately forecast the experience to come.
The first gallery room is accessed by passing through a towering chain-link gate emblazoned with US Border Patrol signage. Inside, security cameras stare down from the ceiling, and sirens blare from hidden speakers every few minutes to maintain the illusion of imprisonment.
This room contains a host of imagery that conveys the inhumane conditions of the detention center. Metal bedframes are crowded into a corner, with documentaries projected onto the small wall space between bunks; low platforms display sheets of Mylar bent into human-like frames, all of which appear contorted and confined within invisible cells. Silhouettes adorn the bedsheets and tapestries hanging from the walls. Lacking clean lines and defined boundaries, these indefinite shapes hint at the ghostly presence of people who have disappeared into the system.
The majority of the gallery’s canvases feature enlarged letters sent from inside the detention center. The writers all beg for basic human rights like clean living conditions, food, water, and sunlight.
Some complain of being put in solitary confinement after asking for resources like medical attention. “I don’t understand this country,” said a detainee in one such letter. “Why do they have the Statue Of Liberty if they don’t believe in her?”
A hallway leading away from the main exhibition space is lined with color photographs of people holding up signs with phrases like, “No person is illegal.” From there, the stark-white walls and neutral-toned artwork abruptly transition into a room distinctly outside of the prison system.
Burnt orange and warm blue paints help create a decidedly domestic space. Uncountable glazed ceramic and earthenware pieces are strewn across shelves, dining room tables, and counters. All of these handicrafts were collected in Mexico and Chile, and their bright colors and bold designs— as well as their position adjacent to cell blocks—act as protest against the dehumanizing immigration system.
Detention Nation is a small installation with a lot of content. Dozens of letters detail prisoners’ experiences being unjustly detained, interrogated, and separated from their families for years on end. Media rooms show films about the exhibit’s creation and the inspiration behind it.
Most unique is the opportunity to make contact with some of the conditions that have been hidden away as securely as the prisoners. The price of admittance is $3 with a student ID, and it buys a necessary experience.
Above: “Invisibles: We are a nation of immigrants” by Carlos Carrasco
photo: Alex Tomme • CU Denver Sentry