In 2009, in reaction to the 2006 Secure Fence Act, two California professors drew images of a teeter-totter crossing the U.S.–Mexico border. They were architecture professor Ronald Rael at UC–Berkeley and interior design faculty member Virginia San Fratello at San Jose State University, the duo now behind the design studio Rael San Fratello.

In 2017, Rael put those images into a book called Borderwall as Architecture: A Manifesto for the U.S.–Mexico Boundary. It wasn’t until 2019 that Teeter-Totter Wall would become a reality with the help of Colectivo Chopeke, which brings communities together through design.

The three pink steel beams used for the seesaws were fabricated by a group of artists in Juárez and painted pink to remember women who have died in the city from violence since the 1990s. On July 28, 2019, those beams were installed through a part of the border fence near Juárez, Mexico, and Sunland Park, New Mexico. For 40 minutes, children and adults on both sides played together. Mexican soldiers and U.S. border patrol agents were present.

While the installation was quickly dismantled, video and images of the event quickly made their way around the world. “The work is an act of protest, but we were not out there with picket signs,” Rael told PBS NewsHour. “We were not out there stating particular messages of resistance. We were demonstrating how the act of play, the act of engaging that place, was our act of resistance to say that, ‘This is our place,’ and we can dismantle the meaning of the wall and its violence.”

Written by staff of Public Art Review.

Public Art Review issue 59Featured in the Projects We Love section of Public Art Review #59.