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Owner of NYC design gallery detained at airport, denied re-entry to U.S.

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Juan Garcia Mosqueda of Chamber Gallery, a legal resident, issued an open letter detailing his experience

Chamber Gallery’s upcoming show, “Domestic Appeal, Part III,” opens tonight. Mosquedo will not be able to attend.
Courtesy Chamber Gallery

Juan Garcia Mosqueda, founder of New York art and design gallery Chamber and a decade-long legal permanent resident of the U.S., was detained last Friday at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City and was sent back to his native Argentina, ahead of his gallery’s new show—Domestic Appeal, Part III—which opens tonight.

In an open letter titled The Visible Wall released by Mosqueda on Tuesday, he called the experience “dehumanizing and degrading,” and detailed his 36-hours-long detainment, questioning, and return to Buenos Aires.

The reaction from the design community was swift and impassioned. Posting Mosqueda’s open letter on Tuesday, Sight Unseen wrote: “We are strongly against this administration’s unfair and un-American targeting of immigrants—and not just those who are important design gallerists, but all those who seek to make a better life here.”

Designers, journalists, and other supporters took to Twitter to rally behind Mosqueda and decry his alleged treatment.

Left: Juan Garcia Mosqueda, seen in his gallery, Chamber, photo by Lauren Coleman; Right: Bark by Ferréol Babin, a work shown in “Domestic Appeal”
Courtesy Chamber Gallery

Of the response from the design community, Mosqueda said this in a statement emailed to Curbed:

Since issuing the letter...I have received tremendous support from not only the design community in New York but from people all over the world. I greatly appreciate everyone’s kind words and concern following this unfortunate incident.

My reason for sharing my experience was to bring to light the situation currently facing immigrants from around the world and to encourage my American friends to contact your local congressmen and push for immigration reform. I am currently in the process of dealing with my re-entry into the United States and for this reason I am not able to speak with media at this time. Thank you again for your support.

You can read Mosqueda’s open letter in full below.

The Visible Wall

Dear Friends,

This past Friday, February 24, 2017, I was denied entry into the United States — the nation where I have been legally residing for the past ten years. The procedure was dehumanizing and degrading every step of the way.

After being escorted to the secondary inspection premises, I was brought down for interrogation where I was questioned under oath and threatened with the possibility of being barred from entering the country for five years.

The border patrol officer denied me the right to legal counseling, arrogantly claiming that lawyers had no jurisdiction at the borders. Shortly after my sworn statement was delivered to the chief officer in charge, they informed me that I was not permitted to come into the country and, therefore, would be forced onto the return flight to Buenos Aires later that evening.

During the following fourteen excruciatingly painful hours, I was prohibited from the use of any means of communication and had no access to any of my belongings, which were ferociously examined without any warrant whatsoever. I was deprived of food. I was frisked three times in order to go to the bathroom, where I had no privacy and was under the constant surveillance of an officer.

Finally, I was escorted by two armed officers directly onto the plane and denied my documents until I reached my destination, Buenos Aires.

This thirty-six hour nightmare is nothing but clear evidence of a deeply flawed immigration system in the United States, carried out by an administration that is more interested in expelling people than admitting them.

I was educated in America, worked at prestigious design entities, and, now, as you all know, own a gallery which employs Americans and non-Americans alike. Chamber supports architecture and design studios in the United States and abroad.

I own several properties in New York and have collaborated in numerous projects with architects, contractors, and construction workers to bring to life projects around the city. We have created a network within the creative industries that span all disciplines and media that help individuals sustain their practices and do what they love.

We proudly carry the New York flag to every fair that we do and every project we initiate across the globe. We self-publish books printed in the United States. And, needless to say, we pay considerable federal and state taxes that help fund many of the societal aspects that fuel the American engine.

Although I am not an American citizen, Chamber is an American product that I hope adds to the cultural landscape of the country. The gallery was conceived in alignment with the same idea of inclusion that was found in the streets of the Lower East Side (where I live and was denied access to) not so long ago: a melting pot of all nationalities and religions, importing ideas from abroad to a culturally embracing metropolis.

We have worked with over 200 artists and designers, from Tokyo to Los Angeles, from Amsterdam to Santiago, in our less than three years of existence and rely heavily on social mobility to get our message across and display the works that we want to show.

To my American friends, I urge you to contact your congressmen and push for immigration reform. Push for a system that does not alienate, intimidate, and bully foreigners but that, on the contrary, welcomes and encourages citizens from all countries to want to keep investing in and contributing to your wonderful country.

This coming Thursday, I will not be able to celebrate the opening of our newest show, Domestic Appeal, which my team and I worked hard to conceive, and will not be able to meet some of the incredible participants that are traveling to the United States to take pride in displaying their creations in one of the most culturally relevant cities on the planet.

Please come see it, have a glass of wine, and enjoy it on my behalf!

Hope to see you all very soon,

Juan Garcia Mosqueda

Buenos Aires, Argentina

This incident comes at a time when the architecture and design community is particularly attentive to issues related to immigration, in light of recent moves by the Trump administration, notably the travel ban on citizens of seven majority-Muslim nations and the call for design proposals for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

"Domestic Appeal, Part III,” curated by Matylda Krzykowski, opens today, March 2, in New York City.