Artist's Statement: Remandando la Frontera
My current work interrogates issues surrounding the artificiality of borders and the ways in which socio-political lines define economic possibilities and life potential for those on either side. This project has evolved from a two-decade study of issues surrounding the US - Mexico border. My reading and research led me on a quest for a single map of the entire US-Mexico border. I wanted a facsimile of the border I could walk along and closely analyze. When I could not find one, I decided to make my own, and I started digitally stitching together satellite images of the border with the intent of creating my own visual atlas.
Still a work in progress, I have nearly completed the first of what will be five volumes. Remandando la Frontera/Mending the Border, Volume I measures 10 inches by 200 feet, folded into a concertina book structure bound in copper and leather. Inspired by the Japanese tradition of Kintsugi, where broken ceramics are repaired with gold-infused lacquer so as to draw attention to the beauty in the fracture, I am defining the US - Mexico border with copper leaf.
An offshoot of this project is a series of images inspired by motifs found in indigenous artwork of the American Southwest and Northern Mexico. I have selected photographs of landscape features from each side of the border, discovered while creating the border atlas. I have recombined these images into larger digital weavings. These works are about the size of a Navajo saddle blanket, a common way in which weaving traditions spread throughout the Southwest. The recombined images are a melding of the local colors and textures of smaller border regions, paired with written vignettes describing issues impacting life in each specific area.
A third element of this project involves photographic images of border cities thought to be among the most dangerous in the world. Many of these images are blurred, evoking the types of snapshots we take through the windshields of our cars. Printed to postcard size, these intimate images are grouped in large grids, mimicking the geometry of city street plans.
Border issues seem closer and more pertinent to Oregon than ever before. Until the end of the Mexican-American war, the Mexican border was located along the southern edge of Oregon, just two hours from my home. My community’s economy is built on an agricultural foundation, and is deeply dependent upon immigrant labor. In late June when the “No Vacancy” sign lights up at the Relax Inn, it is because of the arrival of migrant workers who have come to pick the ripe blueberries west of town. Migrant workers quietly walk down the street, shop unobtrusively at the local grocery store, and gather in small groups at a taqueria truck, always striving to stay under the radar of local attention. This part of Oregon is as red a region, politically, as they come, and there is a deep resentment towards and lack of understanding about immigrants living among us. Oregon is one of seven sanctuary states in the US, where local authorities limit their cooperation with the US Government’s efforts to enforce immigration law. In the 2018 midterm election, Measure 105, intended to repeal Oregon’s sanctuary law, was overwhelming supported by voters in my county.
Oregon has a sizable community of immigrants, many of whom come from Mexico. Roughly 10 percent of all Oregon residents are foreign-born, while over 12 percent are native-born Americans with at least one immigrant parent. More than one third of Oregon’s farmers, fishers, and foresters are immigrants, as are nearly 23 percent of all manufacturing employees. Immigrants are an integral part of Oregon’s communities, and represent on a smaller scale the contributions immigrants make to American society as a whole.
Unlike the immigration peak of the 1990s, migrants coming to the US today are not economic immigrants. They are here because of policies and activities condoned and/or conceived of by the U.S. government. In my work I strive to turn up the volume on this discussion, and increase awareness of the myriad reasons why individuals leave everything to make a dangerous journey with no promise of a pay check or refuge at the other end.