Juan Ortiz

Juan Ortiz is an artist, activist and community organizer who focuses on raising awareness and consciousness around issues of immigrant rights and mass incarceration as they affect both sides of the border. He creates art through “actions” and “interventions” that are not quite lobbying nor campaigns and not quite objects nor performances.

Juan’s voice is deeply informed by both lived experience and careful study. In and out of juvenile detention centers by 14, spending years fighting false charges only to be found innocent, he seeks to highlight how his experience of mass incarceration is individual, but also collective, generational and structural. Juan received a Master of Art in art and public policy from New York University, a Master of Fine Arts from Maryland Institute College of Art, and his doctoral dissertation from University of Arizona is on “Mass-Incarceration in a Border Context, the Borderless Carceral State.” He is a member of the Tornillo: The Occupation Coalition, a convergence of artists and activists from around the country, that came together to occupy the children’s detention camp that opened in Tornillo, Texas (a suburb of El Paso). He is a 2017 Right of Return Fellow and 2020 Art for Justice Fund Fellow.

Right of Return Project

Brown Mother of Exiles and A Life in Shadows Written in Light

Juan Ortiz created two projects on the El Paso boarder where he partnered with advocacy organizations Las Americas Center and Movimiento Cosecha. Both projects addressed the subject of mass incarceration while focusing on ties between incarceration and its affects on the border, particularly undocumented people and border youth. The projects highlight the issue of incarceration through the communal process of art making as a tool to raise consciousness and organize the community. In honor of the poem by Emma Lazarus “The New Colossus” he created Brown Mother of Exiles, a mural created in collaboration with community members that were directly affected by incarceration and lack of immigration status. Many of his collaborators were community members who passed by including residents of a half-way house across the street from the location of the mural. The mural was created in opposition to the SB4 law that was set to take into effect in the state of Texas.

The second project A Life in Shadows Written in Light, came about as a result of the stories that they were encountering through their community organizing for the mural project. It became a video testament to the people they were working with. The piece became a way in which they could share their stories under the cloak of anonymity.