Aram Han Sifuentes
Who Was This Built to Protect?
Jan 28-Jun 5, 2022
Aram Han Sifuentes, U.S. Citizenship Test Sampler (Made by non-citizens who live and work in the U.S.), 2013-ongoing. Installation view. Cotton thread, sequins, beads, photo transfers, patches, felt, yarn on linen,11 x 8.5 in each (27.94 x 21.59 cm). Courtesy the artist. Photo by Hyounsang Yoo
As an immigrant and daughter of a seamstress, Korean American artist Aram Han Sifuentes (she/they) uses sewing as a medium to investigate citizenship, protest, and belonging in the United States. With a practice rooted in the collective, her work is used to center disenfranchised communities, particularly dispossessed immigrants of color.
Who Was This Built to Protect? developed over the course of Getting to Know Aram Han Sifuentes, the artist’s long-term, long-distance residency with moCa. It centers around a set of six large-scale red silk curtains with white text that spans the museum’s Gund Commons. These curtains, entitled Messages to Authorities (Go Away!) (2021), are modeled after Red Cards created by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center with language that outlines the rights and protections held by all people under the U.S. Constitution, regardless of immigration status.
Underscoring how language can act as a barrier to citizenship, Who Was This Built to Protect? places Messages to Authorities (Go Away!) directly in conversation with the U.S. Naturalization Test questions through a selection of U.S. Citizenship Test Samplers (2012-ongoing), needlework samplers of U.S. Naturalization Test questions and answers made by U.S. non-citizens during artist-facilitated workshops. Han Sifuentes repeats these questions on moCa’s Kohl Monumental Staircase, a game of one step forward, two steps back to test civic knowledge and illustrate the often-performative labor non-citizens must endure to prove their worth. An unflinching critique of U.S. governmental practices, Who Was This Built to Protect? highlights roadblocks on the path to citizenship and encourages audiences to question bureaucratic systems, those who constructed the systems, and for whom the systems are designed to benefit.