Undocumented Experience: Am I Illegal ?

Phuong Nguyen —

At first glance, the art work looks like a scene of a three-member family running toward a destination, their heads bowed, their backs leaned forward, and their hands held. The three were framed in by these black, incomplete borders on an unevenly yellow field. If you take a closer look, their bodies are actually compilations of photos of people’s faces, black and white, Asian and Latino, smiling and solemn. Now take a step back to capture the entire piece in one view, and what

do you see? A question that has overwhelmed your impression since the very beginning of your observation, “AM I ILLEGAL?” medina 7

This art piece was the center of attention at an exhibition titled “Undocumented Experience” by Ana Lilia Medina, a graduating art major at Illinois College. The collection, primarily mixed media on canvas, included thirteen pieces and sets of Medina’s works in the past three years.

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For many of those who attended her Closing Reception on Saturday February 22, perhaps it was the “undocumented” component that sparked the most curiosity.

“This art exhibit illustrates to you not only my experience in life, but also how the Latino culture and the American culture have become one in itself,” Medina said in her speech during the reception. A formal presentation, accompanied by homemade drinks, foods, and music, is not a common occurrence at a student showcase. But Medina wanted her event to set a new tradition.

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Medina’s family moved to the United States from Mexico in July of 2001. There was only one reason, “to pursue the American Dream that everybody in my country spoke of,” she explained. The struggles and opportunities of the journey have been the inspiration that gives power to her art works, and in many ways, touch others.

Professor of Economics Dr. Kevin Klein, one of Medina’s patrons at the showcase and also her advisor, found himself related to her art. He said, “I find values in knowing people from other cultures…I look at the kind of art and see something different. I see that the immigration experience that all of us are.”

Besides the social and economic aspects, Medina used art as a way to express her inner feelings of being young woman. Many of the pieces of the exhibition, while considered crossing the lines and even “sinful” by some, explored sensuality and spoke of the vulnerable, perfectionist self-esteem that many young women have in the quest of Love, Lust, and Like, as the name of one of her works suggested.

medina 6She wrapped that impression in the image of a jelly fish, a catalyst that she surprisingly found by accident. “I kept searching exotic animals under water.” She recalled, “and I chose the jelly fish… not only it’s beautiful it’s also dangerous. [And] it represents us all as a cycle of life.”

But in her own timeline of being an artist, it is difficult for her to say who she is. Rather, it’s about her past experience. “When I created something, it became [as though] I was that.” Medina said. Her arts serve as records of events that otherwise exist without records.

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If one takes more steps back from the work “Am I Illegal?” and walks around the studio, one would see Medina’s experience was so much larger, broader, and deeper than the seeming trigger of the exhibit. The art is up to spectators to interpret, but for the artist at the exhibition, her mission was accomplished. Stories of Ana Medina are now documented.

*Photo courtesy of Ana Medina and Phuong Nguyen



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