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Immigrant Artists Share Stories About the Visa Process

A comedian and a sculptor make their US visa processes into art.
Photo by Mindy Tucker

With xenophobia plaguing the media, Trump’s excessive speeches slandering Mexican immigrants, and apprehension about letting refugees in the country, immigration is definitely a hot topic. It’s a serious issue that affects innocent people attempting to make better lives for themselves in other countries. To obtain citizenship is not an easy feat, especially in the United States. At times the desperation leads to paid insincere marriages, bargaining with abusive jobs for temporary sanctuary, or hanging out illegally under the radar without the money to make visas or greencards work. Here are two exemplary folks, who, with their own art, have used the stigmas around citizenship status to create some funny and political art along the way:


JULIO TORRES: Writer, Comedian, Space Prince

Legalize Julio from Max Rosen on Vimeo.

Julio Torres, born and raised in El Salvador, is a writer, comedian, and some would say, “visionary.” Constantly working on collaborative projects, solo shows, videos and now writing for a television show in LA, he has quickly worked his way to recognition as a standup comedian who's most likely from outer space. When applying for his artist visa, he tapped on his comedy community to film a video and to raise money for the expense of it. His ingenious casting paid off and he is now a legally recognized working artist in the US. Torres shares his video campaign with us and tells The Creators Project about his citizenship journey.

Immigration: "I probably think about immigration every single day, it's heightened a sense of 'otherness' I've always played with. There have been so many bureaucratic rules and limitations and ironies throughout my life here in US it's felt Kafkaesque from the first day and has informed my sensibilities as a performer."

The visa process: "Raising the money for this visa turned into a project with my friends. So many of the people who donated and shared the video are comedians themselves. I feel like I'm now assembled by little pieces of so many people. When I die I think I'll shatter into the hundreds of little shiny particles that currently form me. Necessity was the only real driving force, so I figured I'd make it enjoyable and have the video reflect who and what I am."


Inspiration: "I try to learn from performers who know and understand themselves, seemingly impenetrable performers with a strong sense of self who can get an audience excited about strange concept and ideas. I like that so many people loved Michael Jackson, despite the fact there was little to 'relate' to."

Future Goals: "I want to explore the idea of comedian as pop star, and I want to make something that is both beautiful and funny."

Cem Kocyildirim: Artist, Curator, Performer

Photo by Elizabeth Tolson

Cem Kocyildirim is an artist whose creativity knows no bounds. From printmaking, to performance, curating, and drawing, Kocyildirim masters mediums to create new conceptual works. He formed his own brand “Authorized to Work in the US” as a humorous take on his legal status. Originally from Turkey, Kocyildirim studied at Parsons Design & Technology to study sculpture and engineering for grad school. Kocyildirim speaks to The Creators Project about his art, risograph printing, and future:

The visa process: "I worked with a lawyer who specialized in immigration. We decided that the best route for me would be the O-1B visa. The official name is O-1B: individuals with an extraordinary ability in the arts or extraordinary achievement in motion picture or television industry. So you need to prove you are successful in your field. You do this by preparing your portfolio, getting reference letters from professionals in your industry. I also had to prove my achievements in Turkey because O-1B is not a fresh-out-of-school kind of visa, you need years of work."


Authorized to Work in the US: "After getting my approval for O-1B, I had to go back to Turkey to get my visa. I stayed there for three weeks and screen printed shirts with 'Authorized to Work in the US' text on them. All made in Turkey, printed in Turkey, but to be worn in the US. As I was waiting for the approval, I couldn’t really apply for jobs because I could not prove to my employer that I was going to get a working visa. When I finally got it, I branded myself with these shirts. I started an online store to sell them. I know a lot of people who are in the same situation as me. I remember my friend asking how she could mention she has a green card during a job interview. If she was wearing the shirt, she wouldn’t have to mention it."

Risograph: "I recently purchased an old Risograph, a high-speed digital printing system designed for high-volume printing. It’s basically like a printshop in a box which I called 'Authorized to Work in the US Press.' Most people around me don’t know much about Risographs so I decided to organize a show called Drums on Paper. I invited 30 artists to play and print with my Risograph."

Future Goals: "I want to blend the lines of art and product. I am researching for some stores to carry prints from 'Authorized to Work in the US Press.' I want to work with galleries in Turkey for some Risograph shows so that I can start a Risograph community in Ankara too."


Photo by Logan George

Photo by Logan George

Photo by Logan George

To learn more about more Cem Kocyildirim, click here. To learn more about Julio Torres, click here.

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