Artists find inspiration along US-Mexican border

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CAFAM’s timely show “The US-Mexico Border: Place, Imagination, and Possibility” assembles an eclectic display of art, craft and architectural designs that grapple with the border in very different ways.

Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA is the mammoth presentation of Latino and Latino American art and design. It was recently described by The New York Times as “A Head-Spinning, Hope-Inspiring Showcase of Art.” “In Latin American Los Angeles,” they wrote, “bridges soar, walls fall.”

One of the shows that is particularly timely, in view of DACA and President’s Trump’s plans for a new border wall, is the show at the Craft and Folk Art Museum, or CAFAM, titled “The U.S.-Mexico Border: Place, Imagination, and Possibility.”

There, curators have assembled an eclectic display of art, craft and architectural designs, by Ana Serrano, Tanya Aguiñiga, Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello, Guillermo Bert and many others, that grapple with the border in very different ways.

The border is “a place where two countries overlap… For other people it’s been a wound, a separation… And for some artists it’s been a way of looking at this area and trying to come up with a creative solution for how we live in a situation that’s created by the border,” said CAFAM’s executive director, Suzanne Isken.

Included in the show are works that touch on the bitterness caused by the divide, but also the creative frictions and the absurdities of this unnatural divide.

Ronald Rael and his wife Virginia San Fratello have a design studio and created a board game based on the border wall. They also created tiny little architectural models in what look like snow globes that depict absurd and humorous alternative uses of the wall, from a xylophone wall to a see-saw wall to a volleyball court.

“You begin to see how this kind of appropriation and reimagining shows both some of the silliness of building a wall but also the possibilities for coexistence,” Isken said.The model is called Cartonlandia; it’s a kind of fantasy hillside town.

“Ana uses cardboard and she makes these very intricate cities that are sort of based on architecture, also of areas like Tijuana but also parts of Los Angeles. It’s just a whimsical and wonderful work,” Isken said.

We’re joined at the museum by Guillermo Bert, a Los Angeles-based artist who was born in Chile. His art piece brings to life the stories of those traveling across the border. It’s a woven tapestry that shows migrants sitting on top of a freight train called “La Bestia” as it traverses Mexico. The tapestry has a QR code in the middle. Scan it with your smartphone and your phone will begin to play the story of a migrant from Guatemala who arrived to Los Angeles by train.

“I film stories and we record the tradition and the language and encode it into a barcode and then ask the communities to weave it within their patterns of their own traditional designs,” Bert said.

“In the bottom of this piece there is this 17 little dolls hanging. And these traditional dolls, they’re given to people when they’re going to travel in a journey to help them and to give them luck. So then the entire thing is an acknowledgment of their life and the strenuous situation that they have to go through to leave their hometowns and to come to the States to look for a better life.”

“One of the things that this show does is, it does humanize the experience of the people who live there,” said Holly Jerger, exhibitions curator at CAFAM. “I think it’s a reminder that the people who live in an area are usually not the ones who create the borders. It’s other political entities or outside forces. Even though that border may be there, there’s been a shared culture and communication, a way of living that’s often been there in place for centuries or even thousands of years. And just because a political structure is put in place that doesn’t negate that past history and shared experience.”