Twelve large banners filled with photographs of immigrants young and old—from Indonesia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Iraq and Colombia, playing, getting ready for bed, celebrating birthdays with family and friends—hang on the iron fence of Green-Wood Cemetery, a nearly 500-acre historic burial ground in Brooklyn. These undocumented immigrants, photographed by Cinthya Santos Briones, are being protected from deportation, often in churches, in the US, and the scenes of their daily lives make up the outdoor exhibition Living Inside Sanctuary (until 7 April). “[I am] trying to dignify them because they are at some point the leaders of the sanctuary movement in this country,” the artist says.
Santos Briones said the exhibition’s placement—all along Fourth Avenue between 34th and 36th Streets—is deliberate effort to engage a wide range of communities with public art, and thousands of passersby from some of Brooklyn’s most diverse neighborhoods can now view the photos every day. “This installation is a thrilling opportunity to engage our neighbours, through art, in timely conversations about the very real struggles that impact communities here and across the country,” says Harry Weil, the director of public programmes and special projects at Green-Wood, and the curator of the show.
Santos Briones, who was born in Mexico and worked as an anthropologist in indigenous communities there before becoming an artist, now lives in Bay Ridge and has been working with sanctuary communities since 2017. She found most of her subjects inside churches of refuge in New York, New Mexico and Connecticut, and beyond the display at Green-Wood, she is also showing photographs in a similar exhibition, The Value of Sanctuary (until 30 June), at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in Harlem. Her installation at Green-Wood is organised with help from the Brooklyn non-profit BRIC, the borough’s main producer of free cultural programming, as part of its third biennial focusing on artists from South Brooklyn.
Rather than trying to offer an outright political message, the project at Green-Wood aims to present simple intimate images that convey a day in the life of someone seeking sanctuary, Weil says. “The installation is an opportunity for us to talk about what it is to live in a state of uncertainty,” he adds. “What if the life we made for ourselves—our homes, our jobs, our families—all vanished in the blink of an eye?”