October 31, 2017

Behind the Making of Migration Is Beautiful

Artist and activist Favianna Rodriguez explains that border crossings are valuable, essential, and natural facts

By OMCA Staff

Favianna Rodriguez firmly believes in the power of art to inspire lasting social change. Her piece in this year’s Days of the Dead exhibition Metamorphosis & Migration, guest curated by Evelyn Orantes, reflects on the theme of immigration; her previous works have addressed global politics, inequality, gender justice, climate change, and sexual freedom. A longtime friend of the Museum, Rodriguez is the cofounder of the EastSide Arts Alliance and Cultural Center as well as CultureStrike, a national network of socially engaged artists. Here, Rodriguez discusses the power of art to open our minds.

You often address the theme of migration in your art. How did you become interested in this subject?

I’m a native Californian born and raised in Oakland, and the daughter of immigrants. I grew up in a mixed-status family—some family members have papers, and others have not become legalized yet because there are no pathways for them to do so, due to inhumane immigration policy. So, through my art, I want to shed light on how migration is beautiful and beneficial, from pop culture to the food on our tables. This is especially important now, seeing as we live in an anti-immigrant culture and how our laws are outdated.

Tell us about the piece you created for Metamorphosis & Migration. 

I created an installation called Migration Is Beautiful, using the symbol of the Monarch Butterfly. People can stand in front of the installation and “be” a butterfly. I want people to understand their relationship to movement and flight. This is based on a concept I started working on in 2012.

I’m leveraging the metaphor of the Monarch Butterfly as a symbol of the ability of people to move. Migration, which is part of the butterflies’ survival, is in their memories. I want people to think about how migration is also part of our DNA as humans. Movement has always defined the human race; it is natural, and it is how we cross-pollinate ideas.

On another level, immigration is deeply linked with death and rebirth. Migrants often don’t survive their journey across borders, whether land or sea. Death is always part of the process of creating a new life.

How do you see the Museum's role in the community?

The word museum conjures exclusivity, elitism, and inaccessibility—but I believe museums have to be everything that is contrary to that. Museums should be places where people gather and have conversations about politics and our shared human condition. Museums should welcome people to share rituals together, which is what OMCA does so successfully with Days of the Dead. It’s a celebration of the migration of the human spirit, and having an annual day to honor and decorate your ancestors is something that people really benefit from.

What do you hope visitors will take away from your artwork and this Days of the Dead exhibition?

Art is a powerful way to help people see the world in different ways. People hunger for new ways to understand issues like immigration, and art helps them gain fresh perspectives


Metamorphosis & Migration: Days of the Dead is on view now through January 14, 2018. 

A version of this article originally appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of Inside Out, the Oakland Museum of California's Member Magazine.