On November 29, 2015, we mark the 25th anniversary of the Immigration Act of 1990, which created numerous employment-based visas, including the H-1B visa for workers skilled in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
H-1B is of particular relevance to immigrants from India. Many were trained in technical schools that opened throughout India following its Independence in 1947. Over the past 25 years, several generations of young scientists and engineers from all over Asia have come to be part of a “New America” and shape our cultures of innovation and entrepreneurship.
Today, approximately one third of H-1B visas annually are issued to South Asian workers. For many, the H-1B visa is more than a piece of paper affixed in a passport. It determines so much of life in America and the opportunity to become American. To be in the U.S. on an H-1B visa is to live a life of uncertainty. In 2013, the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center invited artists to use the H-1B visa as visual inspiration to comment on their immigration journeys. Works by the 17 featured artists depict the anxiety, dignity, isolation and opportunity associated with this life-changing immigration category. To read artists’ statements and biographies, click on the works of art as you scroll through the exhibition.
“The Goddess of Visas. She holds the mighty keyboard in one hand, while a benevolent hand showers the ultimate blessing on her devotees—the elusive H-1B visa.”
—Ruee Gawarikar (left)
“The journey for me, just like every other young Indian migrant, was arduous right from securing admissions to finally getting a job.”
—Venus Sanghvi (right)
“Nothing speaks larger than the simple bindi, which when Americanized became 'the dot.' We connect our dots to find out who we are and where we come from.”
—Yamini Someshwar (above)
“The setting is a sacred Indian site of worship, in which the devotees both seek eternal salvation and also march along a computer circuit board bridge towards the digital Western Horizon, symbolizing a path of progress towards contemporary advancements.”
—Veru Narula (left)
“The problem of an indentured service is not new. However, the H-1B visa puts a new twist on the matter.”
—Lilaben Leher (left)
“Thousands of people come to the United States of America every year as a dependent on an H-1B work visa holder. While some of these people are men, this demographic primarily consists of women.”
—Juhi Bharat (right)
“Drawing heavily upon my experience as a spouse living on an H-4 visa, my work traces everyday manifestations of the duality of belonging and alienation for families living here in the United States on this visa category.”
“I wanted this painting to reflect the complexity of distance and longing that comes with immigration, lack of a nation-state identity and diaspora.”
—Tanzila Ahmed (right)
“I am the dream of the diaspora.”
—Jyoti Omi Chowdhury & Frances Kai-Hwa Wang (below)
Artists — Tanzila Ahmed, Aishwariya, Juhi Bharat, Neha Dadbhawala, Meghna Damani, Ruee Gawarikar, Girija Kaimal, Lilaben Leher, Veru Narula, Sangeeta Reddy, Arjun Rihan, Venus Sanghvi, Vivek Sashidharan, Ela Shah, Yamini Someshwar and Frances Kai-Hwa Wang & Jyoti Omi Chowdhury
Twelve Gates Arts in Philadelphia showed many of these works in-person in an earlier version of this exhibition from January-February 2014. For more information, see twelvegatesarts.org/exhibitions/h1b.