An exhibit currently in place at Artspace, curated by Sheena Hoszko, questions the validity of the immigration detention situation, and interrogates the ongoing apathy, lethargy and ineffective ideals that subsist in regards to the refugee crisis.
Sheena’s art installation uses immigration detention as an exploration, and criticism, of the prison system in Canada.
Further more, she chooses The Central East Correctional Centre, colloquially known as the ‘Lindsay Super Jail’, to explore the injustices associated with prison systems, the refugee situation, and what this all means in regards, to racism, mental health, and incarceration in Canada.
With Justin Trudeau’s promise of immigrating 25,000 refugees, one might be surprised to learn that although physically within Canada, many refugees or immigrants are not actually going about their lives, and are held in limbo within prison walls. Under Stephen Harper’s government, and subsequently Justin Trudeau’s, as no reform has taken place in regards to immigration detention, any ‘undocumented’ migrant is jailed indefinitely and listed as an immigration detainee.
An ‘undocumented’ person is one that has had either their temporary visa expire, or their refugee status erased as a result of being convicted of a crime.
These people are not being put on trial and have no charges against them, but are jailed nonetheless. Their ‘crimes’, if you want to call them that, are bureaucratic, the result of ineffective legislation that has been put in place, and left untouched, forgotten or forcefully neglected. Trudeau’s immigration promise only masks the problem, letting the majority of the Canadian population think that we are doing right, while past detainees face indefinite isolation, depression and incarceration.
These immigration detainees are regarded as dangerous by the Canadian government, and must await deportation to their country of origin.
Unfortunately, many of the countries that these detainees come from cannot accept them, due to poverty and war, or simply will not accept them on the basis of equally unjust laws in their country of origin. Therefore, detainees face not only a battle with unjust Canadian laws, but also a battle with uncertainty, doubt and anxiety for a system that regards them as not really there.
Hoszko’s installation challenges all of the negativity with a perspective not only focused on an outside perspective, but from the inside as well. Hoszko’s exhibition utilizes Artspace’s two-showcase layout in a way that not only challenges, but contrasts the issues concerning the Central East Correctional Centre.
Showroom one consists simply of fences, stacked side by side, almost as a perspective of what we as regular civilians see. We do not see each face incarcerated within the walls, the family that supports each and every face, or the tears that run down said faces. Rather, all we see is fences. That is the initial impression anyway.
However, the fences also represent tangibility. Not only are the fences used as a representation of incarceration, but the actual amount of fences that you see are equal to the perimeter, a 1:1 scale, of the Super Jail itself.
The fact that a spectator can not only see, but also feel, and even smell these chain-link fences creates astonishment.
People are expressing astonishment at the absurdity that is keeping people against their will, for something as arbitrary as being deemed ‘undocumented’, a word with a clear definition, but no clear meaning.
People just like us, due to arbitrary law making, and something as simple as their place of birth, are held stagnant, and forced to stay dormant inside of chain-link fences. The same chain-link fences that you can smell, and see and touch right in front of you.
Showcase two comes from an inside perspective. Lining the walls are sheets of paper with an accumulation of letters, poetry and statements from those detained. Each one requires careful reading. Each one describes the conditions of their environments, and the sadness, despair and treachery that they feel being held against their will.
Some are hand-written, some are original documents, some are re-typed, but all echo the same question: why?
Some of the most powerful statements in the room are written with the utmost simplicity. Some describe the condition of the jail itself.
Statements such as, “The water that we drink tastes like shit,” and “It is always cold in here like it is winter,” describe the inhumane, cruel and unusual aspects of their stay. Other statements call out to a higher power and highlight the brokenness of the situation. An ‘only god can save us now’ mentality.
“They say the lord is merciful and compassionate but I can not say the same about immigration…”
Others write poetry, to try to put their feelings into words that resonate on a deeper level. “Sometimes I feel like I’m a lot like imperfect clay. The clay of my life becomes bent, broken, or cracked.”
Each piece draped along the walls is written in different ways, and different forms, but all scream for attention. Why? Why Why? And all we can answer is ‘I don’t know’.
The final aspect of the second showcase is a letter-writing station set up in the middle of the room that allows for anybody willing, and able to write a letter to those held inside.
This is probably the most important aspect of the whole exhibition. The ability to contact those on the inside, a luxury so rare to those detained, is of utmost importance.
Change will come slowly, but it will come, as long as we continue, pushing, fighting and speaking our voices.
In the mean time, those on the inside need help to stay strong, and maybe writing a letter is a good start.
Finally, I would like to draw attention to a few organizations around Peterborough and Ontario that are advocating for the rights of those detained.
The first of which is the No One is Illegal movement out of Toronto. This organization advocates for the rights of refugees on the whole, creating safe environments, raising awareness, educating, protesting and even stopping deportations. Although, this movement advocates for all refugees, and put special emphasis on those detained as well.
No One is Illegal has a petition that you can sign entitled, ‘Refugees Welcome.’ You can visit either the No One is Illegal website, or sign the petition to help all refugees at the links listed below.
The End Immigration Network of Peterborough advocates specifically for those detained and fights for those detained at the Central East Correctional Centre, as well as those all over Canada. Websites for all of these organizations can be found below.
I end with a quote from a detainee targeted towards lawmakers, politicians, and any of those who agree with the immigration detention process.
“What gives you the right to discourage me and put me down like an animal? I’m a human just like you with a family just like you.”
The Exhibition runs until February 25th. Art space is open Tues-Fri from 12-6, and on Saturdays from 12-4.