‘DREAMers’ at Pleiades Arts urges viewers to act before the dream melts away

"A dreamer will always dream, so be careful what laws you make, because you never know who that immigrant can be," says artist Manny Perez about his mixed media piece "El Sueno Vive."Beth Mann

Artist Cornelio Campos often incorporates the Statue of Liberty into his paintings, many of which center on the immigrant experience.

But in his painting, “DREAMers,” Lady Liberty takes a different angle. This time, she seems to be turning her back on students holding signs with slogans like #NODREAMNODEAL in the foreground of the painting.

Campos said he wants to leave it to viewers to decide whether Lady Liberty is facing away from the students because she’s shunning them — or protecting them.

“DREAMers” by Cornelio Campos. // Photo by Renee Leverty


Campos’ painting is one of 20 in a new exhibit, also called “DREAMers,” at the nonprofit arts organization Pleiades Arts in Durham. The exhibit features local artists, including some who are considered Dreamers, or those who came to the United States as children without documentation, but are able to work and enroll in college because of the protections in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

“DREAMers,” the exhibit, is presented by Pleiades in partnership Alerta Migratoria NC, a Durham-based deportation defense network, and the NC Dream Coalition, an initiative led by undocumented youth.

There will be a reception at Pleiades Jan. 19 at 6 p.m. for conversations with the artists and representatives from related organizations. During the exhibition, 70 percent of artwork sales will go to the artists, with the remaining 30 percent being donated to the partner organizations.

“It’s not an easy situation, but we do the little bit we can, in this case as artists, along with the gallery and organizations, to have a place where we can talk about it,” Campos said. “We may not be able to solve the world, but we can share ideas on how to support each other.”

The exhibition, on display through Jan. 31, addresses one of today’s most hot-button issues: immigration, and specifically programs like DACA. The Trump administration has directed Congress to create new legislation to guide the program. Otherwise, current enrollees’ permits, which allow them to legally work or attend college, will begin expiring in 2018.

A bipartisan Congressional committee continues to negotiate potential immigration restrictions and provisions and terms for border security. For now, its fate hangs in limbo.

“If we don’t do something fast, our dream is going to melt” — Erick Saavedra, participating artist in “DREAMers”

The issue is personal for Campos. He’s not a Dreamer, but at one point in his life, he was considered an illegal immigrant. (He’s a U.S. citizen now.) After finishing high school, Campos left his family in Mexico to move to Los Angeles.

“Going to college wasn’t an option,” he said. “I came to the U.S. and tried to make it. … I have relatives in L.A. who helped me out.”

It wasn’t easy, and now he’s settled in North Carolina, installing fire alarms during the day and painting at night. And he’s found success. Campos’ art has been displayed and celebrated on campuses like UNC and Duke University.

The issue is even more relevant for artist Erick Saavedra, another artist featured in the exhibit. He’s a Dreamer who takes classes at Durham Technical Community College through DACA.

Saavedra, who is studying pharmacy tech and graphic design, contributed a photo composite called “Dreamer.” In it, a hand holds a rapidly ticking clock. Open books are scattered around the entire image, which appears to be melting away.

“If we don’t do something fast, our dream is going to melt,” said Saavedra, who left Honduras for the U.S. at age 15. “Time is clicking, and we need to get together so we can come up with something to bring more awareness to the DACA issue.”

“DREAMers: A visual art conversation about DACA, Deportation Defense, and the American Dream”

When: Jan. 4 to 31
Where: Pleiades Arts, 109 E Chapel Hill St., Durham
Reception and artists’ salon: January 19, 6 to 9 p.m.


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