Step 4: Creating the composite artwork

At this stage I had the narrative themes, I had components of the artwork, and, I was moving into the realm of focusing completely on the artmaking and final art product. As I was creating these individual images that captured the themes from the narratives, I was also looking for imagery in the interviews. There was a specific question where I asked the participants to identify a metaphor or image that represented the experience of the H1B to them. Some striking and memorable images were those of a barbed wire, a jail, a locked treasure chest or barrier. The barbed wire imagery stood out to me to be representative of many aspects of the experience. I struggled with this decision because to choose one image to me felt unfair to some of the other imagery shared. This is a point that represented my dilemma and struggle connecting qualitative narrative methods with arts based methods.  Was it fair to my participants that I chose one image not another. Was I obliged to include all the images? What was my responsibility to the participants? What was my responsibility to myself as an artist? Although I did finally choose the imagery of the barbed wire to hold the artwork components together, I continue to wonder if the considerations I would typically use in thematic analysis or grounded theory applied in this case. Interestingly when I went out to purchase barbed wire, I was told that only very specialized stores sold them and that they were only used in federal facilities or high security settings like prisons. This was appropriate because my challenge with depicting the experience surrounded the restrictions imposed by the visa. The very experience of buying barbed wire mirrored some of the struggles of acceptance reported by the H1B and H4 visa holders. 

The idea underlying the final composite artwork was that each H1B visa was encased in a compelling individual life story. My aim was to highlight and showcase how a small strip of paper that fills one page of a passport, has a life changing impact on the person who holds the visa. It impacts the life of the visa holder, her/his families and often irrevocably changes the course of their life. The imagery for this artwork uses the concept of narratives to highlight some of the lesser known lived experiences of H1B workers and their families. The artwork includes both visuals as well representative quotes that illustrate each of these themes. The images included the connection to India, the feeling of being distanced, adrift and without a safety net while bringing richness and contributing deeply to the US economy. All the while not being able to fully participate or benefit from the resources available to citizens. This fragmented experience is depicted in the artwork which consists of four separate panels held together only visually. I also brought in an independent artistic element which was images of the earth as seen from space. A few of these images are included below:

The visual elements include canvases that depict images of the earth as seen from above. These highlight the sense of being somewhat part from the overall experience of US citizens and green card holders. The H1 B visa holder is in this in between space that is neither in India nor completely in the US. They are outsiders and are in the unique position of being keenly observant of life in the U.S. without being grounded or secure being here. The images on canvas also highlight the emotional churn of the experience. These images were  some of my responses to the interviews. I felt that the stories shared by the participants highlighted a sense of disconnection, of being and not really belong and being in the U.S. at the same time. To me that perspective seemed to be similar to that of seeing the earth from space. The images are framed to highlight the struggles and pioneering strength of each respondent as they make their way in the U.S. with little or no support. Specific elements of these pieces in the art include composite images on H1B visas, F1 visas, H4 visas, narratives and quotations from the interviewees and images of their professional contributions.


Each hanging panel on the final composite artwork included images that hooked onto the barbs on a barbed wire hook connector. This represented some of the tenuousness of their presence in the U.S.  In addition, the barbed wire on which the frames hang represented some of the inexplicably hostile treatment of visa holders by officials at the U.S. embassies and immigration and naturalization authorities. They also represent some of the limitations and lack of equal rights and protections for foreigners. The photo below illustrated the structure of the artwork with barbed wire hooks holding the canvases and narrative images

The panels together cover about 4’ by 5’ of wall space. Four hooks were used to hang each of the panels. The quotes were then placed on the canvases hanging on the barbed wire hangers. The overall composition is somewhat asymmetrical to accommodate for differences in the individual perspectives as well as the overall unpredictability and variance in the experience. The photo graph below shows the composition with barbed wire hooks holding all the narratives and visuals

Step 5: Exhibition of the artwork and responses from viewers

The artwork was exhibited as part of a group show in an art gallery. The artists held a panel discussion on the day of the opening reception and the work was on display for a month long show. The responses from the visitors to the exhibition revealed a new dimension to the artistic expressions. The responses were focused more on the spoken words of the artists and less on the artwork. The artworks were powerful, visually forceful and few if any visitors critiqued the artwork. They did however question the narratives and if the artists’ impressions were overly focused on the negative aspects of the visa. Some comments by Indian American male attendees indicated that they did not relate to some of the depictions of the H1B experience. One person reflected that the discussions about the artwork and exhibition had a tenor of negativity which was not the viewer’s experience, that he had personally faced no challenges or problems. Another spoke of the disinclination to reflect on the challenges of the experience because it represented a ‘means to an end’ such that any challenges were to be treated as hurdles to be crossed.


Interestingly, there were no expressed criticisms about the artworks from any of the viewers. In fact the response to the aesthetics of the artwork were mostly all positive. Participants had questions about the imagery components and were fascinated by the visual depiction of the Indian passport and components of the visa, like references to terms like parole. One local visitor asked if other countries had similar visa constraints? Several other non-immigrant exhibition visitors reported that they knew nothing about this visa or the related issues until they had attended the exhibition. To that end it seems to have evoked a discussion, a new venue for awareness and dialogue.