Things That Matter

An Art Project Portraying Immigrants As ‘Aliens’ Is Stirring Up Discussion About Who Can Make Art About POC

Immigration is an intensely sensitive subject. Though people migrate from all over the world, it’s one that seems to touch communities of color more often than white communities because of the prejudices our society holds against brown and Black people. One look at the border wall discussion exposes just how narrow-minded some people can be concerning migration. The use of words like “illegal immigrant” or “illegal alien” further expose how ugly people can be towards migrants. 

Considering all this, it’s not surprising that people who are uneducated about the subject of immigration seem to be the ones who talk the most about it. 

Take, for example, this offensive art project that Twitter exposed for its shocking commentary on immigration.

Twitter / @itsapobitch

Twitter user @itsapobitch ⁠— who goes by Coyolxauhqui on the social media site ⁠— shared an image of a classmate’s art project. The painting originates from the campus of the University of California Santa Barbara. According to the post, the art class’ assignment was to depict something with the theme of extraterrestrial or subterranean. For some reason, the person who created this offensive picture decided to depict a child wearing a Mexican sombrero and a serape while trick-or-treating. The painting is captioned “I’m an alien.”

Naturally, Twitter didn’t react kindly to this outrageously insensitive art project. 

Twitter / @neoputa

Twitter quickly labeled the panting as racist. This response wondered how “white people manage to be racist with every little thing.” Many comments asked Coyolxauhqui to share the artist’s name and location so they could talk to her (aka drag her) about her interpretation of the theme. Ultimately, the comments all suggested that they were upset by the outright racism of the painting but sadly weren’t surprised because of the constant state of bigotry people of color experience. 

In a strange twist to this story, the artist herself came to the Twitter thread to defend her intent and the painting’s meaning.

Instagram / @juliettecollet_

The artist, Juliette Collet, shared an explanation of the art project in a statement. She first apologized for the piece before diving in to defend her intention. According to Collet, the idea behind the painting came from a conversation with her boyfriend last year around Halloween. Her boyfriend is allegedly Mexican and came to the United States from Mexico City. Collet explains that her boyfriend was shocked to see people dressing in sombreros and serapes as Halloween costumes and appropriating his culture during the Fall holiday. 

Collet says in her statement that her boyfriend’s father was deported that same year. Due to these experiences, she felt that the theme of this project was a good opportunity to expose “how the American white gaze has stereotyped an entire people with the xenophobic notion of being an ‘alien.'”

The artist also acknowledged that her intention missed the mark and she would take the piece down and replace it with one that more positively reflected the project’s theme. Collet even shared her email address and invited people to contact her to continue the conversation. 

Though she issued the apology, many still had a problem with how oblivious this piece seemed to be about the topic of immigration. 

Twitter / @a_new_hopee

Comments responding to Collet’s explanation and apology pointed out that her instinct to depict a child in Mexican dress when the theme was essentially about aliens was a strange stretch. Twitter questioned her intention to provide societal commentary with a painting that so obviously was problematic at best. 

Despite her supposedly having a Mexican boyfriend, Collet isn’t part of the Latinx community. As Twitter user @a_new_hopee suggested, “It’s always the one’s who aren’t even a part of the community that have the most to say. In other words, outsiders to our spaces would do better to listen than attempt to speak on an issue that doesn’t directly involve them. 

The original poster of the art project, Coyolxauhqui, had some final thoughts to add to the conversation following Collet’s excuse.

Twitter / @itsapobitch

Twitter user @itsapobitch confirmed that Collet removed the painting from public view. Still, despite the artist’s apology, Coyolxauhqui explained that she let it be known when it was first displayed that the painting was dehumanizing and anti-immigrant. She also explained that the piece encouraged the misconception that all immigrants come from Mexico and this thinking can be especially harmful. 

In conclusion, Coyolxauhqui echoed the same sentiment that many on Twitter shared. As she wrote, “Point blank, never try to make artwork with experiences that don’t belong to you, especially if you’re white.” Hopefully, this will serve as a warning to any would-be artists in the future. Instead of inserting yourself into a conversation that doesn’t concern you, lift up the voices of the community. When given the opportunity, we can tell our own stories.

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