Berenice Chavez will exhibit a collection of her photographs in the ACE Co-op Gallery February 5 – March 27, 2021.
Using a range of film types, large and small formats, candid shots and portraiture, Chavez’s photography documents her family’s domestic life – especially that of her mother. Chavez began photographing her family in 2018 when her mother faced deportation to Mexico for the third time. Having lived a lifetime under the looming threat of her mother being taken away, Chavez – then an art student at Eastern Oregon University – found herself compelled to document their world.
Of her work, Chavez notes: “My family and I are characters that play a role in a story of undocumented immigrants in American society. I photograph my mother every time I visit home. The process of developing, proofing, editing and printing the photographs are a way for me to make up for the time I cannot be with her. Undocumented immigrants must live hidden in the shadows, but my mother’s legal situation allows me to bring my family’s story into the public eye. I aim to deconstruct misconceptions about immigration by merging the personal and political. My work questions what it means to be an American – legal status versus the amount of time spent living in the country you call home. The permanence of the image solidifies the life and identity my mother has made for herself in this country. For me, these photographs take the place of the legal citizenship that my mother does not have. They are proof that she belongs.”
In Chavez’s work, photographs become both an expression of place & time, and time & place itself – the evidence of a life, of where it was lived and who shared it, of the love that wove through it, and – as a body of work – the weight of what Chavez and her family stand to lose.
“At the start of this project I was nervous to share something so personal because it was not just my story. It was important for me to have the permission of my family, especially my parents, to share these images with the public. This project has also brought me closer to them as I find myself asking more questions about their past and upbringing during our photo sessions. I plan to continue photographing my family until the day that my mother is finally able to permanently stay in the US or she has no other option but to return back to Mexico. For me, this project has also been a way to document the passing of time as a way of showing how long and difficult the legal process can be.”
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