Office of Inclusive Excellence and Sustainability

Reflecting and Creating: “Alivio y Asilo: Apparitions of Spiritual Activism”

November 22, 2021

By Luis Sahagun, Assistant Professor of Visual and Public Arts

Over the last couple of years, the United States has faced numerous reckonings with its racist past and present. To truly advance racial and social justice in this country we need to not only continue our fight for equality, diversity, and inclusion, we also need to prioritize fighting against white supremacy and (settler) colonial practices, especially in institutions of higher learning. Academia, or the world of teachers, schools, and education, is where a shifting on racial consciousness is ever more necessary. This is especially true when building content for curricula, lesson plans, and programs that promote the voices of our diverse student population. Our academic community and especially our University leadership should be actively fighting against inequity rooted in systemic oppression. Land acknowledgements and online diversity training are important steps, but we must move past virtue signalling to enact real change. I imagine a committee that is equitably compensated, composed of community leaders, educators, students, and local stakeholders, whose main focus is building a heart-centered, racially equitable academic community. This committee would take on the responsibility of creating review processes aimed at uncovering and dismantling colonial practices within Universities and other educational institutions.

As a Latinx immigrant, artist, and educator who grew up in a poor community, I am sensitive to the challenges that students from marginalized groups face in academia. I make it my priority as a teacher to build a community that brings together multiple perspectives in order to foster and celebrate creativity, collaboration, diversity, and confidence. I also believe that educators should model practices celebrating diversity as a form of cultural wealth and not as a deficit or mere tokenism.

My drawings, sculptures, paintings, and performances confront the palpable inescapability of race and transform art into an act of cultural reclamation.  Like DNA strings of mestizaje, my practice metaphorically represents contradiction — indian/conqueror, violence/unity, and ancient/contemporary.  My artwork embodies a visual language of cultural resistance that counters the traditional white, male, heterosexual art historical canon.  

Currently, my practice is evolving to take on a new project in response to systemic oppression and white supremacy.  Alivio y Asilo: Apparitions of Spiritual Activism is a multifunctional project that will transform a utility van into a resource for healing and organizing with the aim to abolish immigration detention centers. This aire libre mobile botánica, or freedom vehicle is  rooted in indigenous healing practices and is an amalgamation of traditional spirituality and political activism. Inspired by pre-conquest Meso-American traditions, this project is built upon the shoulders of ancestral traditions of ceremony, communing, and reciprocity. It creates sacred spaces using the visual and spiritual vernacular of the Tianquiztli, an outdoor marketplace. It will be stationed at immigrant detention centers and will derive its strength from the local community by inviting artists, curanderos, activists, and other spiritual healers to provide various resources for people directly affected by the immigration system. Community visitors, family members of detainees, advocates, and immigration abolitionists will be the primary benefactors. My strategy is to merge the power of spirituality, activism, and art to forge new action-driven tools to stop the inhumane practice of incarcerating refugees, asylum-seekers, and migrants.