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Making Communities: Art and the Border

David Avalos Donkey Cart Altar mixed media 42″ x 28″ x 45″ 1985

Making Communities: Art and the Border

University of California, San Diego, University Art Gallery
And SME Visual Arts Gallery, UC San Diego
Curated by Tatiana Sizonenko, Ph.D
On view through April 13th, 2017

Article by Cathy Breslaw

Making Communities: Art and the Border, features artists who are alumnas of the University of California, San Diego, with artworks created from 1978 to the present.  Wide ranging in its mediums including painting, drawing, photography, sculpture, installation, video, and film, this exhibition is timely in its focus on Mexicans living and working in the Tijuana/ San Diego border regions as our country faces the challenges, complexities, and controversies over our immigration system and policies.  Through their art, these twenty artists examine immigrant communities, in both celebrating cooperation and engagement with both sides of the border and as a source of creativity, as well as highlighting the struggles people of this region endure.

Yolanda M. Lopez’s lithograph “Who’s the Illegal Alien, Pilgrim?” is the oldest of the works(1978) using the familiar army poster “Uncle Sam Wants You” to question whether we are citizens of the U.S. or merely illegal aliens imposing ourselves on a land originally occupied by Aztecs and other Native American groups. David Avalos used his work “Donkey Cart Altar”(1985) as a political statement when he placed it in front of the San Diego Courthouse, serving to express the belief that immigrant laborers, working to feed their families were being treated as criminals. Judge Thompson ordered the work removed as a “security risk”, while many viewed this as removing Avalos’s right to free speech. Elizabeth Sisco, who photographed life along the U.S.-Mexican border for 15 years (1986-1988), exhibits thirteen silver gelatin prints, which are part of an ongoing documentary project that began in 1978, revealing the raids and policing activities of U.S. Border Patrol agents in neighborhoods and on public transportation, as well as examining biased stereotypes of Mexican workers.

Ruben Ortiz-Torres’s combination videos (in collaboration with Eduardo Abaroa) and sculpture (1991, 2002), uses humor to explore contemporary culture influences seen from both Latin America and the United States, morphing one another in a pop-art style to speak to debates about blurred boundaries and how Mexican and North American identities are constructed. Through use of a combination of Speedy Gonzales and Mickey Mouse cartoon characters a statement about first and third world media, the political economy of free trade, tourism, Mexican labor and immigration. Artist Victor Ochoa’s painting “Mestizo”(2010) expresses his concerns over the misrepresentation amongst Hispanic people, identifying “mestizos” meaning “mixed” combining indigenous and white Europeans who have historically populated the regions – but who do not choose a racial category, and many consider being Hispanic as part of their racial background, not just an ethnicity.

Deborah Small’s “The Ethnobotany Project” (2009-2017) is an installation of plants, herbs, books and materials –  part of an ongoing collaboration that promotes the cultivation and restoration of native plants, to bring awareness of cultural practices and to improve health and well being of Indian communities on both sides of the border. Highlighting Baja communities, Small’s work serves to educate about practices of the people of Baja, as well as to stimulate cultural exchanges and sustain traditions. Other artists included in the exhibition are those of the Cog’nate Collective, Collective Magpie, Alida Cervantes, Teddy Cruz, Ricardo Dominguez, Louis Hock, Las Comadres, Fred Lonidier, Jean Lowe, Kim MacConnel, Iana Quesnell, Allan Sekula, Perry Vasquez, and Yvonne Veneges.  Curator and alumna Tatiana Sizonenko Ph.D. Art History, comments “For artists represented here, the border is not a physical boundary line separating two sovereign nations but rather a place of its own, defined by a confluence of cultures reflecting on migration and cross-pollination.”

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