El Sueño Americano/The American Dream: Photographs by Tom Kiefer

August 10, 2024 – February 9, 2025

El Sueño Americano/The American Dream: Photographs by Tom Kiefer brings to light the otherwise invisible experience that asylum seekers encounter when crossing the border between Mexico and the United States. The contemporary still-life photographs feature personal possessions that are confiscated and discarded by U.S. border patrol agents when asylum seekers are taken into custody.

Kiefer worked as a janitor for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility in Ajo, Arizona for eleven years and witnessed people’s belongings being emptied into the trash.  Recognizing the value of each item to the individuals, the artist began sneaking the materials out of the facility to collect and preserve them. After four years of smuggling cast-off rosaries, Bibles, stuffed animals, family snapshots, medicine, letters, and other personal property from the customs facility, Kiefer began grouping and photographing the collection as a way of honoring the asylum seekers, who are profoundly impacted by U.S. immigration policy.

El Sueño Americano personalizes the unnamed asylum seekers by elevating their precious objects to a form of fine art. Through his lens, Kiefer aims to humanize our understanding of the border-crossing experience.

Organized by the Boise Art Museum

Tom Kiefer, USA! USA! USA!, 2019, photograph, 16 x 38 inches, Courtesy of the artist.

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