With the cold wind of intolerance, authoritarianism, and nationalism blowing across America and Europe, I feel compelled to respond to notions of border security and immigration. As an artist from Nigeria, I often must deal with the frustration of trying to gain access to the world. I am constantly required to go through a rigorous visas application process to travel anywhere in the world.
Against this backdrop, I started working on a project theme “The Republic of Unknown Territory” which started during my seven months residency at the Fine Arts Works Centre, Provincetown, MA. This is a multimedia installation/ performance project that interrogates the nature of borders, immigration, and privilege by simulating and recontextualizing the experience of obtaining a visa at a customs office for American audiences. Recreating the tedium and frustration of the process, the piece requires applicants to fill out an adapted version of the Nigerian U.S. Visa application form with deeply intimate questions ranging from one’s sexuality to one’s income in order to gain access to the art exhibit and country territory of “The Republic of Unknown Territory” which explore migration through absence: hundreds of disembodied shoes, floating hijabs, open suitcases with clothing spilling out. Without access to comforts like chair, participants must bear the discomfort of waiting as they experience the arbitrariness of the bureaucracy, where there are no right answers to questions. Approval and denial are granted according to subjective whim of the custom officers. Reversing the paradigm of travel, the exhibit opens American audiences to the experience of being prohibited to enter.
As part of this project, Am working with immigrants/immigrant groups, collecting their stories and experiences. These stories will be edited into a video and sound installation. This aspect of the project seeks to highlight the important contributions of immigrants to the development of social and racial tapestry of American history.