“Working as a janitor at a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol processing facility in Southwest Arizona from July 2003 until August 2014, I was greatly unsettled by the volume of food, clothing and personal belongings being thrown away at that facility.
Why would someone throw away a Bible or rosary? Why would someone throw away a wallet with someone’s identification and money? Why would a pair of shoes, for all intents and purposes “brand new”, be tossed in the trash?
How we treat others is a reflection of who we are. When belts, shoelaces, socks, shoes, underwear, pants, shirts, keys, jackets, rosaries, Bibles, watches, billfolds, coins, jewelry, cell-phones, pre-paid telephone cards, food, soap, deodorant, medicine, condoms, birth control pills and blankets are considered non-essential personal property and discarded, their disposal is a clear and intentional act of dehumanization. – Thomas Keifer
El Sueno Americano – The American Dream is a heartbreaking series of conceptual still lifes on display at the Skirball Museum in Los Angeles.
It focuses on objects collected when Thomas Keifer was a janitor at a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol processing facility in Southwest Arizona.
He had moved from Los Angeles to Arizona. His dream was to photograph the American landscape but art doesn’t always pay the bills. He took a job as a janitor.
The first stage of processing migrants caught trying to cross the border involved agents or people themselves going through their backpacks and emptying almost everything in them. The items were taken and then discarded.
There was a lot of non perishable food being left there and Thomas asked if he could donate it to a food bank nearby.
One day he saw a rosary, a bible and family photographs in the trash and something clicked. He began to quietly take things from the garbage and organized them by object.
Thomas created an artistic work that documents stories of pain, possibility, loss, and hope.
This profound series focuses on simple things that migrants brought with them on their journeys–a bar of soap, a toothbrush, a pair of gloves–relics that had significant meaning to the original owner. (shoelaces)
This is what remains of those seeking a better life on our side of the border.
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