Ligia Lewis: Performance Schedule Changed Due to Visa Denial May 14, 2019

by Kiera O'Brien

Dear Community, Subscribers, Ticket holders, Artists, and Patrons,

Working within liveness means a lot of different things, but one thing in particular is being dependent on the live bodies in the room to create the various versions of the artist’s work. This ability to create art through physical presence is one of the most unique and exciting things about contemporary performance. Ligia Lewis uses the core elements of performance—light, sound, the theater space, and the body—to explore race, abstraction, and the politics of embodiment. The performers she selects to be included in her works are a crucial element of the pieces themselves.

We are living in challenging political times where the movement of bodies around the world is being challenged by our government. The openness and porousness of our borders are being increasingly tightened and restricted. Every time an international artist is presented at On the Boards, we go through a lengthy process of submitting paperwork, paying fees for consulate appointments, soliciting letters of support from high-profile national colleagues to make a case for the need of their visit, as well as seeking advice and aid from immigration attorneys.

A few days ago, On the Boards found out that one of Ligia’s performers was denied the visa which allows him to legally perform in the US. Both the processing officer and their supervisor denied his application, even after multiple letters of support were submitted from national colleagues and Ligia herself, advocating for the importance of his body being part of the work. After consulting with an immigration attorney about the possibility of the performer entering as a visitor instead, we discovered that under our current political administration, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has become increasingly concerned about people entering as visitors and, as a result, spends more time investigating the nature of their travel. CBP will Google people, search phones and laptops, etc. 

If this performer attempted to enter the U.S. as a visitor, and the CBP suspected they were actually performing, they would be denied entry. They could, then, be barred from returning to the U.S. for 5 years, if the CBP officer determined they willfully misrepresented their intentions.  Additionally, the risk of a person being caught is even higher if other artists are entering the U.S. for the same performance, as the CBP then knows that there are legitimate performances happening. 

It is for this reason that we have altered this weekend’s schedule. You can find the updated performance schedule here. You can read the press release that we sent out this afternoon here.  The version of Sorrow Swag that will be presented at On the Boards will be a new one, a unique performance that Ligia will create and perform in with her brother Twin shadow, using the tools of contemporary performance and using the “jaw of the proscenium” to the fullest of its acoustic and visual potential.


Rachel Cook, Artistic Director