Andrea Bowers: Sanctuary & Nonviolent Civil Disobedience Drawing 2007

5 Mar

In a video and series of stills and drawings, Bowers returns to the direct recognition of nonviolent civil disobedience in her artwork and also to the controversial political issue of immigration which she frequently highlights (as in No Olvidado). The silent film features undocumented Mexican immigrant Elvira Arellano and her 8-year-old son, a US citizen. On August 15, 2006, Arellano entered into sanctuary at the Adalberto United Methodist Church in Chicago, IL in order to avoid deportation and separation from her son.  After following Arellano’s story for over a year, Bowers interviewed and filmed Arellano two weeks before her one-year anniversary in sanctuary. Through the video and accompanying drawings, Bowers continues exploring direct action and nonviolent civil disobedience by attaching a human face to a contentious issue. She not only presents a personal story as a way of commenting on the heart-hardening effect of a politically contentious issue, but also to consider the intersections between aesthetics and political protest.

Nonviolent Civil Disobedience Drawing 2007

Nonviolent Civil Disobedience Drawing 2007

Arellano was the first undocumented immigrant to publicly acknowledge her own situation. For obvious reasons, most people in her political circumstances feel that they must avoid the police and government authorities by hiding and keeping away from the public eye.  Andrea Bowers found Arellano’s decision to publicly refuse her deportation courageous; throughout the video Arellano constantly maintains eye contact with the camera, thus demonstrating a determination and strength in her challenging of the political authority.

Stills from Sanctuary featuring Elvira Arellano and her son while they are seeking refuge at a Chicago church.

Stills from Sanctuary featuring Elvira Arellano and her son while they are seeking refuge at a Chicago church.

Similarly to Arellano, Bowers’ decision to underscore such a contentious political issue suggests her resolve in exposing an audience to the political sphere and compelling them to identify with the subjects. The personalization of Arellano and the exposition of her emotion encourage the viewer to deeply understand the effects of political policy on the individual. Ultimately, Bowers’ artwork discusses political issues by portraying activists or individuals involved in challenging or victimized by a policy or issue.

Elvira was eventually arrested and deported, and consequently separated from her son just 3 weeks after Bowers met with her.

Lastly, in the following video Bowers speaks on a panel and describes the influence of direct and collective action within the political sphere.


1. A review of the work. It Speaks to Me: Suzanne Lacy on Andrea Bowers

2. A more complete series of images. Susan Vielmetter Gallery 

3. Art Forum Editorial. The Art and Activism of Andrea Bowers


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