Two women hold hands surrounded by three others with solemn looks on their faces. Above their heads flies a single butterfly — with a human face. The words “Samaritans a healing presence along the border” outline the side of the tallest man’s face. This image is both beautiful and sad, giving the viewer a melancholy feeling, mirroring the forlorn expressions on the people’s faces.

This image is one of the sketches from the exhibit “Border Lands 2019: A Sketchbook Journey” by Betty LaDuke. The sketches are from a trip LaDuke took to the Arizona/Mexico border in 2019. She sketched the images right then and there, while interacting with the people she met on the border. She visited sites with vast lines of migrants waiting for food and water in their journey to cross the border.

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Borderlands 2019, a series of sketches from Betty LaDuke, hangs in the Adell McMillian Gallery in the ERB Memorial Union. The Adell McMillian Gallery is currently hosting an exhibit featuring pieces by Oregon artist Betty LaDuke. (Will Geschke/Emerald)

“Build bridges, not walls,” LaDuke said in a studio tour posted by the UO Visual Arts Team. “We can’t stop people who are desperate. We have to make ways for them to move forward.”

These sketchbook images provide a look into the experiences of migrants along the border — eating what may be their last filling meal for days and sleeping under sheets of plastic as they await immigration decisions. LaDuke captures the raw emotions of these people and uses her sketchbook as a camera.

LaDuke has always had a strong desire to learn about other cultures, she said. Growing up in the Bronx as a child of two working class parents, her first real exposure to the art world was through a camp the summer she turned nine. As a teenager, she attended a school for music and art in Harlem.

“One of the assignments that has remained with me until right now is the idea of the sketchbook,” LaDuke said. “And using a sketchbook to record life around you. And to use that as your subject matter."

Now, LaDuke is sharing intimate sketches from her travels in 2019.

For LaDuke, having the sketches on display in the Erb Memorial Union on campus is important because it reaches people who may not have visited a museum to see the work. As people pass her sketches in the hallway of the Adell McMillan Gallery, she aims to spark curiosity and conversation.

For Lily James, a UO senior and the marketing coordinator for the UO Visual Arts Team, this exhibit highlights the important link between art and social justice.

“Visual art has the power to tell stories of things you struggle to say in words,” James said. “[LaDuke] hopes that people see her work and are reminded to care and to help these people who are just trying to find a better life for themselves. And I think that comes through in the work.”

“I Really Don’t Care. Do U?” is a sketch of a smiling figure with its hands reaching up above. In the place of the figure's body, 11 scared faces peer out. The hands of the figure mingle with flying birds that soar overhead. Underneath the sketch, LaDuke wrote an explanation that the slogan tied to the piece’s name came from Melania Trump’s jacket — which she wore when visiting children in detention centers who had been separated from their families.

“I Really Do Care. Do You?” LaDuke asks the viewers in a written piece underneath the sketch.

These sketches provide a peek into the reality of what is happening here and now on our border, LaDuke said. Her work will be on display at the Adell McMillan Gallery in the EMU until Sept. 6. The exhibit is open Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. UO ID is required to visit. A virtual tour of the sketches and a talk with the artist is available online.

“I hope they care,” LaDuke said in the studio tour video in reference to the people viewing her sketchbook images at the EMU. “And each of us in our own way do what we can to make life better for the DACA Dreamers, for migrants all over.”

Nika is a writer at the Arts & Culture desk. Send her an email if you know of any local artists or events that should be featured!