Picture the U.S.-Mexico border. What do you see?
The art installation About Crossing shows us one of the realities for migrants. Consisting of sculpture replicas of grave markers for unidentified bodies, the work can simultaneously remind you of the humanity of those who die trying to cross and of the personhood denied to them by some of the individuals on the other side.
One of their earlier works, Amy Sanchez and Misael Diaz presented it at the San Diego Museum of Art for the Summer Salon series in 2011.
Given the current--and often limited--national dialogue about migrants and those who we identify as “other,” there has never been a more crucial time to open up exploration of the U.S.-Mexico border and its significance. But Sanchez and Diaz, who founded the Cog•nate Collective in 2010, have been questioning the evolution of the border as it is simultaneously erased through economic policies and strengthened through militarization for some time. That is, despite any "tightening" of the border that happens, the region is culturally and commercially interrelated.
They develop research projects, public interventions, and experimental pedagogical programs in collaboration with communities across the border region.
As Diaz explains,
It's really easy to speak about it as a wall because you think border, you think fence, it should do this thing. It's very abstracted, removed from the daily realities of it. When you go to the border, to an actual site, when you think about it as something that is rooted as a place, you find that clash--it just doesn't make sense when you see the way in which communities inhabit and work in those spaces. And I think, for us, what has been so interesting in general is how it is that people in those spaces themselves understand that duality...and try to find ways of carving out spaces and moments and even economies that ultimately can exist as a kind of nexus.
Their work addresses migration, informal economies, and how collective identities are constructed through popular culture. But ultimately, what Sanchez and Diaz are proposing through their work is a nuanced understanding of the border not as a hard division between this and that, but as a region that “expands and contracts with the movement of people and objects.”
This proposition is a challenge to limited views about what the border is and how we imagine it.
Another of their interventions, Escalas Fronterizas (Border Scales; video above) invited vendors and the thousands waiting to cross to reflect on the meaning, function, and evolution of borders like the ones that divide cities and nations through cinematic representations in visual arts and in pop culture.
Sanchez and Diaz will be featured in this year’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA as part of the exhibition The U.S.-Mexico Border: Place, Imagination, and Possibility at the Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles (September 10--January 7), which will include work by other artists who have engaged with the border region in their work.
And because it will give Latino artists a platform on such a massive scale (reflecting the population in SoCal), Sanchez hopes that this Pacific Standard Time will become a new benchmark,
This is happening in Los Angeles, it’s happening in a place that…has an enormous Latino population so it’s a really exciting opportunity. A lot of museum goership tends to be white U.S. Americans; those tend to be the people who visit museums. So I’m excited to see what will happen when these kinds of exhibitions that are narrating and giving us the stories, the art history, and the work of people who are from this vast geographic territory that is the Americas…what reverberation this is going to have just because this is happening in Southern California...Maybe this becomes a new standard for engagement.
Don’t miss this incredible exhibition beyond borders, where you’ll experience dimensions that aren’t often explored in current conversations and that are necessary if we are to understand how connected people and cultures are--and, perhaps, how strange it is that we can put up any wall and think those on one side are somehow fundamentally different from those on the other, while cultures intermingle and people keep moving.