Illegal Alien was created during a two-day encounter I had with a young African named Aaron who was studying sculpture at a college in South Africa.
Aaron was in the process of working on his graduate thesis and was very conflicted in his thoughts. He explained how his white instructors were consistently limiting his and all the other African students’ creative visions and demanding that they only follow the rules and regulations that were given to them by the college. If they were to complain, they could lose all their college funding.
He further said that the white students were given every opportunity to develop and express all of their creative ideas without any conflict or reprimands from the college. I explained to him that I too had also experienced many of the same types of prejudice during my formative and college education. The only difference here in America is that I spoke out and demanded to be treated justly every time someone attempted to hold me back creatively.
I never felt that my education was in jeopardy, however, I did feel the hidden undercurrent of racism as it reflected my outspokenness and lessened many of the academic opportunities kept from me because I refused to play the “good old Negro” role.
My response was to give Aaron some clay and show him how to create a sculpture in two days that in Africa would take two weeks because of the teaching method he would be asked to follow. We spent 16 hours talking and creating, and I incorporated our exchange into my sculpture. The effects of apartheid are still present in South Africa just as racism continues to plague America. Aaron and I both share common grounds and, in many ways, we are still Illegal Aliens in our own countries.