Artists Working at the Border

Theresa Sweetland joined Forecast as Executive Director in 2016, having previously served as Executive/Artistic Director of Intermedia Arts, and Director of Development and External Relations at the Minnesota Museum of American Art. Her passion and know-how have continually brought together diverse sectors of the community, artists and planners, elders and teens, prisoners and poets, to build collaborations and partnerships that expand and enrich lives and build community.

I have watched and listened to the media coverage of the separation and isolated detention of over 2,000 children from their families. As a mother, I feel intense disgust and anger at this lack of humanity and it has me struggling to feel optimistic. I have signed petitions, donated dollars, written emails and made calls. These activities make me feel active, but they typically do not make me feel inspired or hopeful.

There is a reason that the arts is not only how I earn a living, but also a large part of my life. When I need to feel more human, to feel connected to others, to understand someone’s pain or joy, to feel inspiration in the good times and in the darkest times, I look to our artists.

As our eyes are on the US-Mexico border, I think about all of the courageous public artists who are working at the real and perceived borders around the world. Artists who are instigating change by raising awareness, making visible the invisible, creating beauty and conversation, and often facing brutality, violence and racism.

This last year international public artist JR brought attention to the US-Mexico border with Kikito, the public art piece installed on the border fence that separates Tecate from the United States. This large-format photograph of a smiling one-year-old looking over the border wall into the US brought wider focus to the Trump administration’s border wall policies, as well as his efforts to rescind the DACA program.

While JR’s work captured international attention, there are many other projects led by public artists over the past decades, on both sides of the border, that work on a daily basis to bring attention to this issue. From the ongoing work by the artist collective Border Arts Workshop/Taller de Arte Fronterizo, founded in 1984, to the provocative performance work of Guillermo Gómez-Peña and La Pocha Nostra, to the three year documentation of the border by photographer Xavier Tavera and the recent documentary short En la Frontera del Arte (On the Margins of Art) produced by Miranda Harris Martínez and Mike Curran in collaboration with artists living and working between El Paso, TX, and Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, México.

In my recent visit to the annual Americans for the Arts conference in Denver, CO I was introduced to the work of a truly inspiring Mexican-American public artist, Tanya Aguiniga. Her organization AMBOS (Art Made Between Opposite Sides) seeks to “express and document border emotion through art made on opposite sides by providing a platform to bi-national artists along the border.” Tanya’s own experience crossing the border every day as a child for 14 years to get an education in the US makes her work deeply personal and informs her multidisciplinary work as an artist, designer and craftsperson. She recently opened her first solo exhibit at the Museum of Arts and Design in which she explores immigration, identity, and culture.

And finally, you will see on our homepage, we are highlighting a piece from Public Art Review #54 about The Repellant Fence, a large-scale public art installation spanning a two-mile stretch of desert dividing the US-Mexico border. The interdisciplinary arts collective PostCommodity, comprised of Raven Chacon, Cristóbal Martínez, and Kade L. Twist, creates work that explores the metaphors that play out in our borderlands.

As Forecast continues to share information on the incredible artists working at the front lines of conflict around the world through our website and magazine, I hope to uplift the role of artists in bringing attention to important issues.

– Theresa Sweetland, Executive Director