Last week, California based artist Phil America turned the border wall between USA and Mexico into an Unauthorized Gallery. On display was Bright Stars, work comprised of American flags sewn from the garments of illegal immigrants.
Bright Stars is the second installment in Phil America's Unauthorized Galleries series. During the first 2 weeks of the Trump Presidency, the artist collected clothing worn by illegal immigrants as they crossed the US-Mexico border in search of a better life. Their clothing was then disassembled, hand-sewn into flags and hung in the unauthorized ‘gallery’ that is the fence that divides the two countries. It is swarming with border patrol agents, as the US government spends more money on border enforcement than all of the other federal enforcement agencies combined. After being detained twice, he was finally able to create Bright Stars and honor those that risked their lives in pursuit of their dreams.
His Unauthorized Galleries utilize unused and ignored spaces and recontextualize them as an art space From flag poles to abandoned factories, Phil America does not ask permission to create these galleries: he recognizes an area that must be activated in this way and installs a unique series of artwork. The series began in 2016, with the Subway Gallery, a ‘gallery’ space created in the subway tunnels of NYC, in an abandoned subway station in downtown Brooklyn. The gallery received international press and has stayed there, attracting the attention of both urban explorers and the vandal squad- a police force dedicated to investigating graffiti in New York City.
The artist has shown in museums and galleries around the world, often times pushing the limits of legality in his work. He has published 3 books on the subject of graffiti, most recently a book titled Above The Law: Graffiti On Passenger Trains. Some of his other projects saw performances where he lived a month in SouthEast Asia's largest slum and America's largest tent city, afterwards showing the home and video in separate museums. Creating a work that is both focused on crossing the boundaries of the law and having deep roots in social practice art should come as no surprise to those aware of his work.
The 'gallery' itself has since been taken down by border patrol, yet the ephemeral nature of the project is part of its concept, highlighting the idea that borders will forever be arbitrary in the artist's mind