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Bay Area Artist Turns Portraits of Immigrants into an American Flag–Shaped Middle Finger to Donald Trump
Lamar Anderson | Photo: As credited | March 16, 2017
Art trumps hate.
The day after Donald Trump’s election victory, Monica Lundy’s mind kept returning to immigration. “So many of my friends and family are immigrants,” says the Bay Area–based artist. “I just knew I wanted to do something that supported one of the communities that was under attack by the incoming administration.” So she teamed up with Walter Maciel Gallery in Los Angeles to recruit more than 100 artists to make portraits of immigrants. The small, eight-by-eight-inch artworks that poured in depict people of all stripes, from celebrities like Eddie Van Halen to famous figures such as Einstein and Madeleine Albright to the artists’ mothers, children, friends—and even themselves. Hung on the wall in the configuration of the American flag, the installation has a message that’s unmistakable: “To be an immigrant is American,” Lundy says. “The two cannot be separated.”
The exhibition, titled With Liberty and Justice for Some, is now on its way to San Francisco, where it will be on view at the San Francisco Arts Commission Galleries from March 25 to April 8. The SFAC show will kick off Sanctuary City, a year-long series exploring San Francisco’s relationship with immigrants and refugees. Lundy’s show, for its part, has an activist bent: The L.A. installment, which opened before the inauguration, sent 30 percent of all artwork sales, or about $6,000, to groups including the ACLU, the Trevor Project, and the Center for Reproductive Rights. The San Francisco installment, which is opening just as Trump's latest attempt at an immigration ban is working its way through the courts, will donate a portion of its sales to organizations specifically supporting immigrants. (The beneficiaries are still being worked out, Lundy says.)
Among the portraits of famous immigrants like Arnold Schwarzenegger, tennis pro Martina Navratilova, and the Jamaican-born black nationalist leader Marcus Garvey are, yes, two of Trump’s own family members. Melania appears in a collage by Mike Street, looking off into the distance, holding Barron, a map of Slovenia floating over their heads. And there’s the president’s mother, Mary Anne McLeod Trump, depicted by David Estrada in a cartoonish map scene holding an anchor in her lap (she emigrated from Scotland in 1930 and worked as a maid). The work's full title—"Mary Anne McLeod Trump (w/ child)"—is perhaps a reference to her first pregnancy or just the most droll anchor-baby pun ever.
Lundy’s flag of immigrants isn’t just here to jab at the president; it also serves as a reminder of just how many of our “American” icons came from somewhere else. Case in point: Lundy’s portrait of Hollywood icon Belo Lugosi, who played the original Dracula. “I feel like he was a star of the silver screen, an icon of Americana—yet he was not American,” says Lundy. Or Eddie Van Halen. Or Cesar Millan, aka the Dog Whisperer. What’s more American than the Dog Whisperer? “I love the portraits that feature some of the American icons,” Lundy says, “because they highlight the hypocrisy in so much of our country’s attitude about immigration.”
But it’s not all finger pointing. The show is full of intimate portraits of loved ones. The Oakland artist Hung Liu painted her son, Ling Chen, and San Francisco artist Cindy Shih painted her aunt Kelly, who left China for an arranged marriage that turned out to be an exploitive domestic labor arrangement that proved hard to escape. “What was interesting to me is how many artists wanted to work with portraits of loved ones,” says Lundy. “That shows how close to home this whole topic is.”