People move. Disaster, oppression, love, or dreams of a better life light a fire beneath them, and they move. “Resistant Currents,” at the Boston Center for the Arts’ Mills Gallery, examines the fluid force of migration and the structures and concepts designed to restrict it.
The show, organized by artist Jeannie Simms, director of graduate studies at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University, examines the walls governments erect with red tape and the hurdles they build with language, regulations, and tropes about national identity.
A portion of the eagle from the Great Seal of the United States appears in Joe Joe Orangias’s banner “Holding the modification in contempt.” A talon grasps an olive branch. We don’t see its other talon, which holds arrows. The original design called for only the peace symbol, the artist tells us in wall text, but was modified, shaping America’s values.
Like symbols, borders and passports are contrivances. In Daniel Assayag’s “Trespassers,” luminous wires outline a room in a darkened gallery. It’s a stateless, transitional space. The wires glow red and green, like traffic lights. One of three doorways is impassable, drawn against the gallery wall, but I forgot I could walk right through Assayag’s outlined walls. At the mere suggestion of them, I fell in line.
Simms underscores the exhibition’s stinging conceptual work about regulation and enforcement with personal stories. Layle Omeran, an LGBTQ Yemeni seeking asylum in the United States, fashions ink portraits from Arabic calligraphy, cryptically spelling out poems of lament. Anto Astudillo’s film “Santiago Barbershop” captures the intimacy of a Dominican business in Somerville.
Yu-Wen Wu relates, in delicate drawings of the moon, a tale of a girl who lost her family in the Chinese Civil War in the 1940s. At 14, she made her way by night to safety in Taiwan. Caught up in the trappings of borders and identity, we can lose sight of what brings people to knock on our metaphorical doors — which, this show suggests, are better left open.
At Mills Gallery, Boston Center for the Arts, 551 Tremont St., through Oct. 14. 617-426-5000, www.bcaonline.org