Artist Joe Lewis draws parallels between the Underground Railroad and today’s migrant trafficking

February 5th, 2020

New exhibit ‘Forced Exodus: Coded Messages From the Underground Railroad’ currently at the Mesa College Art Gallery

When Joe Lewis came across a story last summer about giant X-rays scanning vehicles at the border to detect migrants, he found the images disturbing. They brought to mind engravings of slaves in the holds of cargo ships.

“It started me thinking. I started drilling down on that,” the Irvine-based artist said.

The result is a series of 10 printed and embroidered textiles, juxtaposing border images of heavily armed patrols, fences, huge X-ray machines, trucks and surveillance towers with scenes from the old engravings.

The pieces draw parallels with the Underground Railroad and the trafficking of migrants. Not all slaves headed for the northern states or Canada, Lewis said. Some, especially from Texas, sought refuge in Mexico, which had abolished slavery in 1829 and allowed slaves across the border. Through his research, Lewis discovered that the Underground Railroad routes to Mexico were much the same as today’s smuggling routes.

Original Article