Smithsonian, the prestigious national museum in Washington, DC is presenting “Beyond Bollywood” a digital exhibition by 17 South Asian American and Asian American artists, exploring America’s immigration story in a new digital exhibition simply titled “H-1B.”
Inspired by the employment visa coveted by Indian techies, the artists comment on their immigration journeys depicting the range of emotions — anxiety, dignity, isolation and opportunity — associated with living in America. Approximately one-third of H-1B visas that permit foreigners highly skilled in science, technology, engineering and mathematics to work in the U.S. on a temporary basis annually are issued to South Asian workers.
“Our H-1B visa exhibition explores a historic part of the American story from the perspective of South Asian Indians,” said Konrad Ng, director of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center.
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 dependant spouses and children of H-1B visa holders.
“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,” wrote artist Aishwariya in her artist statement for “Dual Intent.”
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.” 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 the U.S.”
“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,” she said. “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.