For the 2018/2019 year, Jenny Polak’s decentered public art project ICE ESCAPE SIGNS, commissioned by the Tufts University Art Galleries and customized to Tufts University campus, will be on view. This ongoing and evolving series is based on fire-escape signage and sited like real signs, using floor-plans of buildings to suggest site-specific escape routes for the exhibiting venue. Drawing attention to the fact that people are living in daily fear of being caught in a raid by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the signs both place those not living with undocumented status in the shoes of those that do and shares the often-obscured reality of the undocumented lived experience. Polak worked with the Tufts University community to conceptualize this iteration, dialoguing about the overlapping realities of living undocumented or experiencing it through family members and communities, the potentialities and drawbacks of sanctuary city mandates, support systems available through the university, and evolving federal policies. What emerged is a complex terrain of navigation through anxiety and life-affirming community, and this signage opens a dialogue about what is necessarily hidden from public view.  


Originally conceived during the George W. Bush administration, when Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) was remade as the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement now known as ICE, which also lead to increased workplace raids in 2006, the project gains new relevance in the present debates around immigration policies and the treatment of asylum-seekers and refugees. ICE ESCAPE SIGNS have appeared at multiple venues nationally and internationally including the Contemporary Art Museum Houston, Houston, TX; The Soap Factory, Minneapolis, MN; NJIT School of Architecture, Newark, NJ; Tompkins County Public Library, Ithaca, NY; Seven Hills Conference Center, CA; Queens Central Library Gallery, Jamaica, NY; White Box Gallery, NY; Copenhagen Central Library, Denmark. For the Tufts University iteration, the signage at SMFA at Tufts and the Aidekman Art Center is accompanied by this website where viewers are invited to give feedback and share experiences, further evolving community dialogue around this issue and the communities it affects. 

Tufts University Art Gallery is commissioning this project as part of Tufts PUBLIC, an ongoing program of yearlong, temporary public art projects designed for spaces outside the Art Galleries and throughout the school’s Medford/Somerville and Boston campuses. ICE ESCAPE SIGNS is presented in conjunction with the exhibition Walls Turned Sideways: Artists Confront the Justice System, which will be on view at Tufts University Art Galleries in Spring 2020. This exhibition features work by artists from across the nation.

ICE Escape Sign: Tufts University, SMFA
17x23 inches.
Engraved plastic with infill paint.
Copyright Jenny Polak

Jenny Polak makes site and community responsive art that reframes immigrant-citizen relations, amplifying demands for social justice. Originally from England, her art draws on her background in architecture and includes public and socially engaged projects such as architectural installations, drawings and useful commemorative objects. Polak's family history of migration drives me to examine detention centers, racial profiling, and strategies for surviving hostile authorities. Her fictional firm Design For The Alien Within creates hypothetical hiding and dwelling places, symbolic lookout and counter-surveillance structures.

Polak's art, collaborations and site-specific projects have been exhibited widely and awarded support by NYFA, the Graham Foundation for the Advanced Study of Visual Art and Franklin Furnace, among others. She has held artist residencies including with the National Park Service, Newark Museum, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, and the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. While Artist-in-Residence at Northwestern University, Polak conceived the long-term project Mobile Speakers’ Podium for Citizens and Non-Citizens, currently appearing in locations around Gary, IN, to highlight and promote community and artist activism against mass incarceration and the for-profit prison industry.


More at https://www.jennypolak.com/ 

Jenny Polak, ICE Escape Signs for Tufts University, 2019.
Installation view.
Tufts University Art Galleries Opening Reception, September 5, 2019.
Photo by Jake Belcher.
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