TENDER R/AGE :: RABIA TIERNA ~ an introduction


25 June 2019 QEPD Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez y Valeria

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A firsthand report of ‘inhumane conditions’ at a migrant children’s detention facility


Let’s not shame our eyes for seeing. Instead, thank them for their bravery.

                                                                                                               Joy Harjo

20180621_170757¡NO CAGES!


an introduction to this outcry of collective outrage

The irreducibility of the cries of terrorized and traumatized children in the face of state violence has moved me to reflect on my own childhood and to create the call for TENDER R/AGE :: RABIA TIERNA ~ an outcry of collective outrage. It is a project inspired by Audre Lorde who reminds us that our silence will not protect usIt began as a crowdsourcing call to friends to send in photos of themselves as children. Like many project participants, I lived a cage-free childhood. As a child I knew caging people was wrong. I knew it then. I know it now. The project is conceived of as a collective outcry and is informed by a feminist coalitional politics. Its coalitional impetus coalesces around its collective cry for no cages.

Living on occupied territory and being born and raised in the borderlands, TENDER R/AGE :: RABIA TIERNA, acknowledges the long tradition in the US of separating families – chosen and biological. The project also recognizes how the US has led the way in producing, and continues to produce, the Migration Industrial Complex (MIC), its profit-driven economies, technologies, detentions, and surveillances.[1]

For years I have been working on the idea of the US as a regime of distortion where fear and insecurity are cultivated through state rhetorics, policy, and the media to criminalize, pathologize, and thereby distort whole populations. I am envisioning this project as a call for seeing and looking anew and acting with outrage and compassion. Knowing that well-intentioned projects can sometimes reproduce structures of oppression or the very traumas they are designed to address, I move forward with caution and care. I recall Toni Morrison’s admonitions to artists in troubled times. It is precisely in such times, she tells us, that artists must get to work. I proceed then with an attentive fervor also inspired by Gloria Anzaldúa’s call to use the tools of our creative and critical production as instruments of active intervention. Entonces por medio de la pluma [y agrego de la cámara], I continue to imagine a world without cages. I am moved and inspired by friends who trusted me enough to send photographs even though my ideas were still forming. I feel a responsibility to do right by them and most especially by the thousands of children separated at the border into caged conditions of deep uncertainty and injustice.

I am honored to be collaborating with Eithne Luibheid, a migration studies scholar and friend. We are co-writing a companion essay (abbreviated below) that further contextualizes this art project in the larger and looming conversations regarding migrants, refugees, migration, displacements, detainments, and deportations. While we are both situated in Tucson and the project is born in this context, it is undertaken at a time of broad anti-migrant and anti-refugee actions around the world with which it is also in conversation. We invite viewers to make connections in ways that are meaningful to them.

We are currently creating on online component of this project titled Sensorium where we will include updates to relevant policies, calls to actions, and resources. In the meantime, this project’s assembled materials are available for pop up installations. TENDER R/AGE :: RABIA TIERNA ~ an outcry of collective outrage, thus far, consists of 63 crowd-sourced participant childhood photos assembled as paper doll cutouts and printed on card stock (up to 13” in height and 19” in width depending on image quality and composition). Cutouts will recall for viewers that we have all been children. They will be placed as a collective grouping overshadowed by a chain-link panel situated above them and meant to highlight that we are all living in the shadows of these cages (though with vastly different consequences and constrictions) and the monstrous border policies of forcibly caging children in indefinite and inhumane detention.

Participants have given permission to use their photo submissions together with their name/s and an outraged call for “¡NO CAGES!” Some also provided narrative responses to the forced separations happening at the US/Mexico border. These statements have also been printed on card stock and can be exhibited as hanging declamations. An empty cage will be included in the installation. Photographs of the cutouts situated with the shadows of a cage looming over and marking their images will be included in Phase Two of the project as will a sound scape production of wailing humans and non/humans that re-sounds the lasting trauma and terror that has been installed and imposed on children and that cannot be erased by any Executive Order.

Adela C. Licona & Eithne Luibheid

20180621_171314-e1529626731442.jpg¡NO CAGES!

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Action & Resources




[1] Fernandez, Manny and Katie Benner. “The Billion-Dollar Business of Operating Shelters for Migrant Children.” NYTimes, 21 June 2018.
Shout out to the folks at the Gloo Factory, a community-minded union print shop in Tucson, for their swift printing in recognition of this kairotic moment.