The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center launched a new digital art exhibition Monday to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the H-1B visa.
A spin-off from the Smithsonian’s “Beyond Bollywood” exhibition, “H-1B” consists of artwork from 17 South Asian American and Asian-American artists that explore America’s immigration story using the H-1B employment visa as inspiration.
“Our H1-B Visa exhibition explores a historic part of the American story from the perspective of South Asian Indians,” Konrad Ng, director of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, said in a statement. “The artwork captures the experiences of people who come to America for the American dream.”
Created by the Immigration Act of 1990, the H-1B visa is a temporary three-year employment visa for highly-educated foreign professionals primarily in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The H-1B program has recently come under fire because the demand for H-1B visas has exceeded the 65,000 cap every year since 2003, this year getting 233,000 applications in less than a week.
Closely tied is the H-4 visa for dependent spouses and children of H-1B visa holders.
“Drawing heavily upon my experience as a spouse living on an H-4 visa,” wrote artist Aishwariya in her artist statement for “Dual Intent.” “My work traces everyday manifestations of the duality of belonging and alienation for families living here in the United States on this visa category.”
Artist and activist Tanzila Ahmed wrote in her artist statement about “Borderless”: “I wanted this painting to reflect the complexity of distance and longing that comes with immigration, lack of a nation-state identity and diaspora.”
According to the Smithsonian, approximately one-third of H-1B visas annually are issued to South Asian workers.
Dr. Masum Momaya, Curator of “H-1B” told NBC News that the exhibition “illuminates an immigration status that often gets stereotyped or left out of dialogue around immigration in this United States. Each year, people from all over the world come to the United States for a better life; some find opportunity, and others endure great hardship. The artists in this show take us through the emotions and nuances of their journeys, illustrating new and complex layers of what has been a defining characteristic of America and American history: immigration.”
The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center is also encouraging people to share their H-1B stories using the hashtag #MyH1Bstory.
Note: Frances Kai-Hwa Wang has an artwork in the “H-1B” exhibition.