Human Proof Fence by Kate Havelin

Sixteen years later, Beth Cleary and Peter Rachleff remain haunted by ​what happened to three girls. A 2002 Australian film, Rabbit Proof Fence, traced the mixed race Aboriginal girls’ escape from a re-education camp in 1931. The girls began walking home, 990 miles through harsh country, determined to get back to their family. Molly, Daisy and Gracie trudged alongside what was the world’s longest fence, built to protect grasslands from rabbits.

Motivated by the girls’ desperate trek to freedom, Cleary and Rachleff organized an art exhibit, Human Proof Fence, premiering Friday, October 26 at East Side Freedom Library. Five Twin Cities artists have created works for the show, with support from the Marbrook Foundation.


In a sense, each artist or their family have faced Human Proof Fences, formidable barriers between homes they had to leave and their chance for a better future. Wars drove some from their homes. Others were forced to flee because of oppression.

Ger Yang’s art on permanent display at the library shows a modern Human Proof Fence, between the U.S. and Mexico. His mural makes every trip down the library’s stairs a journey, where visitors see experiences common to some East Side neighbors, which include Hmong, Latinx, African and other communities. Yang plans to unveil a new 3D artwork for the Rabbit Proof show.

Aye Lwai and Rosie Say are Karen women whose tapestries tell stories of homesickness and re-adjustment. Their modest tapestries are woven snapshots of lives past and present, the dog Say loved and had to leave behind, a peacock symbolizing the queen, a hand above the tipped scales of justice, fishing and snowflakes. Their stories, published in both Karen and English, add background to their art.


Xicana artist Pacha Galavíz will add a mobile and acrylic painting focused on displacement and whiteness. Galavíz’s goal is to inspire other inspire other Latinx artists especially Xicano youth to create and express more.



John Matsunaga will exhibit works from a photo book in progress about his family’s internment during World War II. His parents were 11 and 13 when they and their families were among the 120,000 Japanese Americans incarcerated in the American Southwest. In February, the library mounted his photo exhibit, Nidoto Nai Yoni, Nidoto Nai Yoni: Forgetting and Remembering the Wartime Incarceration of Japanese Americans. Holding his mother’s high school yearbook from the incarceration camp, Matsunaga mused about what happens to this history when all who were incarcerated are no longer alive to tell their truth.

We need to remember the stories of Americans incarcerated by our government because of wartime xenophobia, just as we need to remember the stories of refugees, including our Hmong and Karen neighbors, the stories of immigrants from Latin America or Africa, and all those who’ve been locked in or kept out by fences.

Inspired by the story of three Aboriginal girls, this exhibit opens doorways through border walls and barbed wire fences, revealing pain and loss, memories and hope.

Human Proof Fence Opening Celebration and Discussion
Friday, October 26, 2018, 7:00 – 8:30 PM
East Side Freedom Library, 1105 Greenbrier Street, Saint Paul 55106
Free and open to all.

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