Shotgun Reviews

U.S. Department of Illegal Superheroes (ICE DISH) at Galería de la Raza

Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, Callie Humphrey reviews U.S. Department of Illegal Superheroes (ICE DISH) by Neil Rivas (a.k.a. Clavo) at Galería de la Raza in San Francisco, California.

Neil Rivas (Clavo). San Francisco Field Office, 2013; installation view, U.S. Department of Super Heroes (ICE DISH), 2013. Courtesy of Neil Rivas. Photo: TBD.

Neil Rivas (Clavo). Interior view (with Supergirl), ICE DISH SF Field Office & Detention Facility, 2013-2014. Courtesy of ICE DISH. Photo by Alanna Haight.

Galería de la Raza is currently hosting its very first resident artist, Neil Rivas. The San Francisco-based artist has converted the back half of La Raza into the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Illegal Superheroes, or ICE DISH. The agency deals with the capture and deportation of undocumented superheroes. Superman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, and the whole iconic lineup are at high risk for deportation, their immigration status unregistered with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The ICE DISH headquarters is replete with a physical training station, lockup cells, surveillance monitors, a most-wanted bulletin board, cabinets filled with presumably top-secret files, authoritative black desks, swivel chairs, and other austere institutional furniture. Populating the ICE DISH facilities are its six local agents, who carry out all departmental proceedings both on- and off-site.[1]

High-stakes immigration debates are occurring across the country, but what actually constitutes the conversation appears to be little more than empty political banter. Through ICE DISH, Rivas has created an artistic platform for social intervention, though I hesitate to call it outright activism. The agency conveniently positions familiar, culturally beloved characters at the face of a critical discourse that the project hopes to engage, and as such functions equally well as both an educational outreach tool and as art. The reality of the immigration discussion is one increasingly devoid of empathy; it is a faceless battle driven by rhetoric rather than humanization. By aestheticizing the conversation through established iconography, Rivas makes the entry point more accessible for those who may otherwise not actively seek to participate in such a dialogue. The discussion ICE DISH generates does not forefront race, specifically, but rather highlights general ideas of difference, belonging, and the quintessential role of the other.

Though the headquarters is only semi-permanently installed at Galería de la Raza, ICE DISH can be found touring comic-book fairs, hosting workshops at local elementary schools, and—in its most activist form—rallying on the streets during immigration-rights demonstrations. Superheroes themselves sometimes make appearances at these venues, soliciting advice, sympathy, and voiced concerns from the common citizen. In this way, ICE DISH is able to facilitate a meaningful exchange of ideas and questions, and provoke nuanced layers of understanding in the community at large about what really is at stake in this ongoing immigration battle.

U.S. Department of Illegal Superheroes (ICE DISH) is on display at Galería de la Raza in San Francisco through February 22, 2014. Personal tours of the San Francisco Field Office led by ICE DISH agents are available by appointment by contacting director Tanner White at

[1] The agents are: Tanner White, Director of ICE DISH; Alanna Haight, Chief of Staff; Will D. Port, Executive Associate Director—Homeland Security Investigations; Ray Jin, Immigration Enforcement Agent—Enforcement and Removal Operations; Eugene Hicks, Deportation Officer—Enforcement and Removal Operations; and Juana Wrights, Special Agent.

Callie Humphrey is a California-based curator and founder/director of public-arts initiative Concrete=Canvas. She holds a BA in Arts Management and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Curatorial Practice at California College of the Arts.