Neil (Clavo) Rivas is an artist, activist and a connoisseur of comics. Most of his work deals with social and political issues that directly or closely affect him. But he's influenced not only by his background as a documentary photographer, political activist and member of the Salvadoran diaspora, he's inspired also by comic book kitsch and aesthetic politics.
"I always kept in mind that art played a critical part of my activism--that's how I really came into art," Rivas told me. "It's the idea of revisiting and providing the room for reflection."
Back in 2008, Rivas did a project called "Phantom Sightings in MacArthur Park," which was a reflection on the police brutality that took place during the 2007 May Day march in Los Angeles. Rivas took photos during the May Day march, then used cardboard cutouts of his photos to recreate the scenes.
One of his most recent projects is "Illegal Super Heroes," which includes 27 posters of comic book heroes who would be "illegal" immigrants in the context of today's politics. Each poster features a different hotline to report the comic characters to the "Illegal Super Heroes Department for the San Francisco Immigration Customs Enforcement Field Office."
"If ICE is going to be rounding up people and labeling them 'illegal', that has to be applied to these pop culture gods and goddesses," says Rivas. "In America, these characters hold a lot of nostalgia for people and make people care. When it's Superman and Superman belongs to your childhood, it will stir some feelings. I wanted to create something that got people's attention and got a strong response, whether it was confusion or agreement or anger."
Rivas's father loved to draw with whatever he could find on the streets of El Salvador when he was growing up, and he passed the love down to his son. But it was Rivas's uncle who encouraged his interest in comic books. That uncle was shot and killed when Rivas was a child, and in a way, this poster series is a revisitation of childhood memories, his uncle and a reflection of his assimilation.
Each poster has a hotline number that you can call to report the undocumented super hero. When you call the number on each poster, you reach a recording telling the story of the super hero. Here's an example of the message for Superman, who's number is 415.857.ICE6 (and who's immigration status has also been noted by culture critic Jay Smooth and comedian Hari Kondabolu).
Hello, you've reached the Illegal Super Heroes Department for the San Francisco Immigration Customs Enforcement Field Office. This is the report hotline for illegal super hero Superman.
Superman, perhaps the most notorious of all illegal super heroes, is known to have entered the U.S. countless times illegally since his first appearance in Action Comics #1 (1938). He was born on the planet Krypton and has resided illegally in Smallville and Metropolis.
He is suspected to currently be illegally present within U.S. borders. To make a report, please leave a detailed message after the tone.
Thank you, and God Bless America.