Artists Alejandro Figueredo Diaz-Perara and Cara Megan Lewis were appalled when they discovered a congressional mandate that U.S. immigration detention centers, including for-profit private detention centers and some county jails, must collectively fill 34,000 beds with detainees at all times.
"These are human lives, families seeking political asylum in the US; not numbers to be applied to [the] bottom line of the big business of private prisons," the artists wrote to A Plus. "We were dismayed and assumed that if we were unaware of this mandate that others were as well."
To shed light on the plight of immigrant detainees, both artists recently collaborated on a special exhibit called 34,000 Pillows. The concept was part of the exhibition Soul Asylum at Chicago's Weinberg/Newton Gallery, who recruited the Human Rights Watch.
"34,000 Pillows materializes the human impact of the 'Bed Mandate' by attempting to create a pillow for every bed designated to detain immigrants in private prisons and county jails," they wrote to A Plus.
Both artists conducted weekly pillow-making workshops during the exhibit. Each pillow is comprised of articles of clothing donated by undocumented immigrants who are prior detainees.
Diaz-Perara, an immigrant from Cuba, and Lewis, who is from the United States, often collaborate by exploring ideas that border social constraint and political art. As a duo, they're known by the name Diaz Lewis.
The pillows will be sold at $159 each, which is the cost of detainment per immigrant for a single day. The funds are donated towards organizations that help immigrants like Human Rights Watch and the Interfaith Committee for Detained Immigrants.
The exhibition, which opened in January and received high praise, earned Diaz Lewis future invitations to exhibit their work in the coming year at other locations. After their exhibition closes on March 26, Diaz Lewis will continue their activism.
"We will continue making pillows until we reach the number designated as part of the quota or until the bed mandate is eliminated for good," they wrote to A Plus. "We hope for the later because the arbitrary 34,000 daily quota is a significant obstacle to the development of true alternatives towards the reform of our detention system and Immigration reform."
In early February, President Obama released his budget for fiscal year 2017, which attempts to reduce the bed quota to 30,913 detention beds. That's still quite a lot of pillows to sew.