This is a paper sculpture of the Golden Venture made by Cao Xiang Qui, one of among 286 Chinese, mainly from Fujian Province, who paid tens of thousands of dollars to be smuggled into the United States in the cargo hold of this ship. Immigration officials arrested Cao and other survivors after a mutiny caused the ship to run aground in the early morning of June 6, 1993 at Rockaway Beach in Queens. Denied any possibility of bail, they were detained at York County Prison in Pennsylvania, some for as long as four years while awaiting a ruling on their asylum cases. To stave off deportation, Cao and fellow Golden Venture refugees petitioned for political asylum as Christians, democracy activists, or potential victims of forced sterilization under the system set up by the United States Refugee Act of 1980. But as their cases dragged on for years, making papier-mâché and folded paper sculptures out of magazines, toilet paper, and other materials available to them in prison became a way to pass the time and create thank you gifts for pro bono lawyers and other supporters assisting them with their asylum cases.
MOCA acquired some of these folk art pieces and mounted an exhibition in 1996 to draw attention to the then still ongoing plight and fight of Golden Venture refugees. Cao’s Golden Venture ship featured prominently in this “Fly to Freedom” exhibit. In 2017, MOCA once again showcased the paper sculptures in its “FOLD” exhibit, which used the Golden Venture refugees’ art and stories to humanize and intervene positively amidst the fearful climate that President Trump’s anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric rekindled.