The Suitcase Project
Back in the Fall of 2019, I happened upon an article in the Los Angeles Times about an exhibition in Los Angeles called El Sueño Americano | The American Dream: Photographs by Tom Kiefer. In this photographic series, Kiefer asks us to consider how we treat migrants as a reflection of who we are and who we want to be as Americans. In his work, which is a response to the dehumanizing treatment migrants face in detention, he carefully arranges and photographs objects seized and discarded by border officials—objects deemed “potentially lethal” or “non-essential” among a variety of belongings crucial for sustenance, hygiene, protection, comfort, and emotional strength. I called Tom Kiefer immediately and booked the exhibition at the Cleveland Print Room in 2020.
In January 2021, my sister, artist and writer Nicki Wilkins, and I created The Suitcase Project in response to and inspired by Tom Kiefer’s moving exhibition. The Suitcase Project focuses on the items contained in immigrants’ and migrants’ suitcases as an examination of the cultural and social landscape of our city: Cleveland. In the 2010s, the immigrant population of Cleveland began to see significant growth, becoming one of the fastest growing centers for immigration in the Great Lakes region. As immigration is an important aspect of American history as well as contemporary American life, the Suitcase Project considers the cultural, social, and historical aspects of immigration through art and the written word.
Through the lens of immigration and migration, this project examines the condensed universe of the luggage, along with replicating presentation and engagement on the topic of immigration. The Suitcase Project recasts the narrative of immigrants in Cleveland communities using their own voice and vision. We asked participants to create an innovative project that considers the content of the luggage as a study in cultural self-portraiture.
Through an open call, nine participants from immigrant families (up to two generations removed) were chosen to create suitcases of meaningful artifacts from their home countries and new artwork as part of a traveling exhibition. The exhibition spent four weeks at the Cleveland Print Room and is now showing at Akron Soul Train.
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Cleveland Print Room