Creative Action Against Family Detention
WHEN: Wednesday, October 25th at 12pm
LOCATION: North Gates of City Hall, Broad Street and JFK Blvd
Michelle created “Seguimos Caminando” (We Keep Walking) a moving monument that imagines the gates of City Hall that brings to the forefront the stories written by detained undocumented mothers through a series of animated projections that can be seen every Wednesday and Friday evenings (8-10 pm) at the north gates of City Hall till Friday, November 17th.
The project is featured in Monument Lab , a public art and history project produced by Mural Arts Philadelphia and a curatorial team led by Paul M. Farber and Ken Lum that operates around a central guiding question: What is an appropriate monument for the current city of Philadelphia? From September 16–November 19, Monument Lab highlights temporary prototype monuments by 20 artists across 10 sites in Philadelphia’s iconic public squares and neighborhood parks.
As part of her moving monument, Michelle led several free paper flower workshops open to the public at the Monument Lab Research Field Office at the Barnes Foundation. Over a thousand paper flowers, a tradition passed down by her maternal grandmother, were created by more than 100 participants that include students, educators, and families in Philadelphia. The flowers made by the participants will join the flowers made by the mothers detained at Berks which carry messages of freedom and the continued fight against family detention.
On Wednesday, October 25th at 12pm at the North Gates of City Hall, Broad Street and JFK Blvd, the hand dyed flowers will be assembled at the north gates of City Hall to spell out the 10’x40’ word “Libertad” (Freedom/ Liberty). The collective artwork is a creative action followed by a press conference led by the Shut Down Berks Coalition to end family detention in Pennsylvania and in the United States.
Through her monument, Ortiz honors the mothers previously or currently unjustly detained at Berks County Family Detention Center, a prison outside of Philadelphia for immigrant families. Berks family prison is one of three family prisons in the United States, where children as young as two-weeks-old have been incarcerated. The Center has a laundry list of human rights abuses which led a Federal Court to revoke their license and order the immediate release all the families. Fourteen families were detained for more than 2 years and during that time they organized labor and hunger strikes as they fought for their freedom. 10 families were deported back to their home country returning to the violence they were fleeing, and 4 families were released still fighting against their possible deportation and living through the trauma of being detained. This year, due to inactivity from Governor Tom Wolf, the Center’s license was renewed and continues to detain families (mothers, fathers, and children) to this day.
Ortiz worked on “Seguimos Caminando” monument with the Shut Down Berks Coalition and the mothers detained at Berks. The animated images in her moving monument illustrates the compiled writings from two mothers from Honduras and El Salvador sharing their stories during her visits with them while they were detained at Berks.
"As we tear down monuments, lets build new ones that honor and elevate the people continuing to fight for freedom. I felt that it was necessary to provide the mothers with a creative outlet for them to envision their freedom when the decisions on their lives and the lives of their children were uncertain.” Michelle Angela Ortiz
“I cannot forget the trauma caused by being detained, and the many times I can not sleep and I am desperate. I worry about everything and the feelings of being detained come up again. I pray to God to help me overcome this. I want everyone to know the damage they do to one being detained in the Berks Detention Center.” A quote shared by one of the mothers (featured in the monument) days after her release after being detained at Berks for 623 days with her now 5 year old son.