“I particularly like drawing people,’’ says Michelle Garcia, whose breezy illustrations reflect growing anxieties surrounding race, immigration, and civil rights in America. Working with clients like The New York Times, ProPublica, and the Vera Institute of Justice, Michelle creates mixed-media paintings that center the value of human life within their narratives.
“As a first generation American, I've had a lot of difficult experiences,” the Latina artist tells NOT REAL ART. “Although some of these experiences have been painful, I'm grateful for everything that has happened because it has made me the person I am […] I'm interested in centering people like that in my work.”
While some of Michelle’s editorial assignments veer into bagels, BBQ, and one particularly nauseating Jell-O mold, the underlying emotion powering even her most lighthearted works is compassion. “I’ve built my art practice around the idea that people do not have to be passive participants in an unjust racial system, but can create a racial reality in which everyone belongs,” she says.
Michelle’s philosophy on justice comes to fruition in her Unsafe Release series, a trio of heartbreaking works created for the Vera Institute of Justice. Tucked into the accompanying text, Michelle’s paintings illustrate the cruel fate waiting for disabled immigrants at the US-Mexico border. “There is no consistent policy or practice for the release of people who the government has deemed unable to advocate for themselves from immigration detention,” writes author Erica Bryant in her article “ICE’s Deadly Practice of Abandoning Immigrants with Disabilities and Mental Illnesses on the Street.”
Michelle’s three contributing works cleverly evoke alienation, social isolation, and estrangement from community: an absurd bureaucratic maze; a man abandoned in the cold without his medication; a sea of suffering faces. Rendered in bright reds, blues, and purples, Michelle’s work makes room for joy and hope within the unjust systems that prick so many tears. She notes: “I strongly believe that racist ideals, laws, social hierarchies, and traditions cannot flourish when people resist them and deconstruct them as empty ideas.”
“I’ve built my art practice around the idea that people do not have to be passive participants in an unjust racial system, but can create a racial reality in which everyone belongs.” — Michelle Garcia
All photos published with permission of the artist(s).
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