Art has no boundaries. Art is freedom. It is a remnant that leaves identity in its path, but which constantly moves, dissolves and transforms itself in other environments. Art gives us the ability to connect with one another despite language barriers and cultural differences.
Art takes a creative eye and the audacity to draw outside the lines to turn a symbol of division into a message of unity. But was is the border art in Mexico?
Whether in Cold War–era Berlin or present-day West Bank, border walls have long been used to stop people whose race, religion, economic status, or ideology have been unwelcome. But wherever anti-immigration politicians see opportunity, artists see canvas.
Two professors from California transformed a part of the U.S.-Mexico border into a tool for the connection rather than separation. Children from both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border were playing together on three bright-pink seesaws placed through the fence in Sunland Park, New Mexico (near El Paso, Texas), and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.
The temporary art project, known as the "Teeter-Totter Wall," was first dreamed up in 2009 by Ronald Rael, an architecture professor, and an interior design associate professor Virginia San Fratello. After 10 years of conceptualizing, the installation came to life with Mexican and U.S. Border Patrol agents overseeing its construction at the highly politicized border. When the temporary seesaws were put in place, families on both sides of the wall gathered to play for approximately 30 minutes, capturing videos and photos that have since been widely shared across social media.
The San Ysidro port of entry that connects Tijuana and San Diego is the busiest land border crossing in the world. Some 100 years ago, this boundary was marked by little more than flimsy cattle fencing. Today, the border wall's rusting steel bars extend 300 feet into the Pacific Ocean. In 2011, Mexican artist Ana Teresa Fernandez "erased" the border by painting the fence to blend into the sea, sand, and sky (pictured at top).
Just inland, Enrique Chiu is aiming to cover the length of the rest of the existing U.S./Mexico boundary wall with murals created by volunteers, artists, and community groups in border towns across the Southwest. Covering a distance of more than a mile and counting, Chiu's Mural de la Hermandad (Brotherhood Mural) is gunning for the title of longest mural in the world.
The border wall that cuts off Tijuana's beach from its American counterpart was transformed into a canvas that tells the stories of deported migrants.
The interactive art installation at Playas de Tijuana by Lizbeth De la Cruz Santana consists of portraits of four deported migrants, spanning the height of a section of the border fence along Tijuana's beach. Visitors who hold their cellphones up to a QR barcode affixed to one of the murals can access audio on the project's website narrating each migrant's story.
The subjects are a United States veteran, two mothers who were forced to leave behind their U.S.-born children and a man who was deported just months before he would have qualified for DACA — the 2012 program designed to shield from deportation people who were brought to the U.S. when they were young.
De la Cruz Santana, 28, herself the child of a Mexican migrant, said that each of those depicted in the installation is someone she knows, and that she felt compelled to share their stories to bring awareness to the dangers and hardships faced by migrants during their journey north and during deportation. She added that she hopes the project, which is part of her doctoral dissertation and funded through a grant provided by the Mellon Public Scholars Fellowship, could help raise money to provide legal assistance for deported migrants.
"Technology is one of the best ways and venues for people to tell their stories." Mauro Carrera, a muralist and partner with De la Cruz Santana on the project, said he hopes the project shows "the people behind the politics."
We can look forward to the brilliant ways artists use this unfortunate situation to inspire change. The hope is that they make a difference — or at least carry on the tradition of leaving evidence of the efforts to fight for one's rights.