Monday, July 22, 2024

Julia Csekö’s “Transcending Borders” on Salem’s Artists’ Row. (Photo: Julia Csekö)

Somerville artist Julia Csekö’s moving “Transcending Borders” is both a culmination of her work as Salem’s public artist-in-residence and an invitation for viewers to take part in an ongoing storytelling project. The work is on Salem’s Artists’ Row through Sept. 8. 

As a child of Brazilian exiles born in the United States, Csekö’s work is informed by her parents’ immigrant experience. The main goal of this project is to destigmatize immigration and celebrate immigrant communities’ resilience.

The piece contains a rainbow of colorful ribbons, each saying “You are welcome here!” in different languages. A QR code prompts visitors to share their own immigration experience in writing or audio. Csekö also holds open office hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays throughout the summer, where she’s been recording oral history interviews in the Salem PAiR studio.

Csekö’s interviews have been telling; for many participants, the lack of belonging and sense of being an outsider run deep. One of the questions she always has for participants is: “Do you consider yourself American?” This question draws a variety of reactions, Csekö said over email, “but in general, there is such a big pause before it is answered. I find that very interesting. Even though some people have been living here for many years or are even second generation, they still hesitate to think of themselves as American. Some folks say straight up: no.”

“There’s just a big aversion to being an immigrant. It’s like a negative thing, even unconsciously, even if you’re not someone who thinks negative things about immigrants,” said one storytelling participant, Julio Mota, in audio collected by Csekö. “We tend to hide it.”

“Transcending Borders” is a spectacle, and the outcome of its participatory storytelling project is sure to be impactful. The installation, along with the stories collected over the summer, moves to Salem Old Town Hall in January.

“Transcending Borders” on Artists’ Row, 24 New Derby St., Salem, through Sept. 8


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