‘Illegal’ immigrant artists take their protest fashions to the streets

New York's White Box gallery is organising a runway performance to highlight the precarious conditions of undocumented migrants


An exhibition featuring garments and accessories made exclusively by undocumented immigrants artists opens Tuesday evening with a “runway” performance at New York’s White Box gallery that aims to highlight the precarious condition of the estimated 11 million people currently living in the US in fear of deportation. The show Illegal Fashion opens just days after US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents launched a series of raids in homes and workplaces across the country following President Trump’s executive order on 25 January, which has resulted in the arrest of at least 600 undocumented immigrants.

Organised by White Box’s founder Juan Puntes and the Mexican-born artist Mária de Los Angeles, the show includes six artists and designers along with several performers and models, some of whom are using pseudonyms to protect their identities. The runway performance is due to start at 6pm at White Box before “spilling into Broome street, ending at the Sarah Delano Roosevelt park where poets and orators will stomp, addressing the Downtown Sanctuary situation regarding the LES Latino and Chinatown communities,” the gallery says on its event page.

Puntes, who fled Spain in 1973 as a military draft evader under the dictatorial Franco regime, says that he sees parallels with the current administration. He is working behind the scenes with sanctuary centers in New York City, and will donate a portion of the proceeds of the show to help those who are threatened by deportation.  

De Los Angeles’ own work includes dresses made from paper, with phrases such as DEPORT ME and DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), a reference to her temporary legal status under the immigration policy started by former President Obama, which provides work permits and exemption from deportation for a period of two years to those who were brought into the country as children.

Asked if she is afraid that public exposure could create a backlash, de Los Angeles replied: “We should show more resistance. We must not be afraid to bring visibility to an issue, to a struggle that is tearing families apart.”