Sanctuary City Goes Global:  USF housed art exhibit to show in Italy this summer

The “Sanctuary City’s” billboard (pictured above) is on display over Mission street. Photo Courtesy of Sergio De La Torre.

Bold in their sentiment and block-lettered print, statements such as “Undocumented unafraid,” “I am an immigrant” and “This is a sanctuary,” can be seen on posters, tote bags, billboards, and just about any flat surface that text can be screen printed onto, as part of the “Sanctuary City” project. 

Sergio De La Torre, associate professor of fine arts in the Department of Arts + Architecture, is the beating heart of this art project that involves community and conversation around migration, surveillance and security. Based in research and data analysis, the project “engages individuals and institutions into deep dialogues regarding sanctuary cities & immigration policies,” according to their website. 

The collection started as a research project in 2007 supported by the Creative Work Fund, focused on the migration patterns and implications at the U.S. border with Mexico. The work was later the basis for the “Art as Citizen” class offered in the art department at USF. 

This summer, the Sanctuary City project will be shown at the Museo dell’Altro e dell’Altrove di Metropoliz (Museum of the Other and the Elsewhere), or MAAM, in Rome, Italy. 

A sanctuary city, as defined by the Center for Immigration Studies, can be a city, country, or state that has rules and regulations “that obstruct immigration enforcement and shield criminals from [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] ICE…[by] denying ICE access to interview incarcerated [undocumented immigrants], or otherwise impeding communication or information exchanges between their personnel and federal immigration officers.” California became a sanctuary state under former Governor Jerry Brown on Oct. 5, 2017. 

The art project has been displayed at several museums and galleries across the country,
including at the SFMOMA in 2017. Photo Courtesy of Sergio De La Torre.

De La Torre said, “You look for empathy with this project, you look to be compassionate. To be like… what if you were in a situation where you had to leave your country? Nobody wants to leave their country. Nobody wants to move from Guatemala to Canada. But they have to because they have no choice.”  

De La Torre was born in National City, Calif., but grew up in Tijuana, Mexico. Crossing the border his entire life, De La Torre has witnessed the ever-changing nature of border security. He was introduced to his partner in the project, Chris Treggiari in 2007 — when Treggiari was a graduate student at the San Francisco Art Institute and De La Torre was conducting his research. 

Treggiari said, “One of my big tenets in my work is mobility, and allowing the arts to reach the public space; to reach out into communities and to engage in communities and dialogue.” Treggiari has been a professor at the California College of the Arts since 2013. Treggiari peddles a mobile print-making stand, where the Sanctuary City posters first started coming out in 2017.

MAAM is a sanctuary in itself. Originally a slaughterhouse, the converted art museum currently “houses around 200 people, including 60 families with children, hailing from all around the world,” according to Culture Trip. Treggiari said, “They are a museum for the people — a museum for the immigrants.” The content of Sanctuary City is based on the conversations that take place where the art is, with posters being unique to each location. 

The topic of migration is not easy to tackle for some. De La Torre said, “So you get into these conversations that are exhausting at some points, but then again, you somehow have to be patient and just …listen to them, and work with what they have, in order to understand.” 

In terms of challenges that the project faces, Treggiari said, “you never know what you’re going to get… immigration is hotly contested right now… I think we are going to run into some heated conversations… we look to have constructive conversations.” 

De La Torre said, “We’re making up laws in order to stop migration… no one can stop it because we have been doing this for centuries. We’ve been walking for centuries, now we take trains, and cars, and boats, airplanes; but before we used to walk — before borders were constructed.” 

Editor-in-Chief: Megan Robertson, Chief Copy Editor: Sophia Siegel, Managing Editor: Jordan Premmer, Scene Editor: Inés Ventura

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