Visual and performance artists as well as writers and poets have much to contribute to our considerations of the border and migrant experience. Through their various art forms, they approach these subjects in a different manner than policy makers or advocates, touching our hearts and minds with their messages.
The migrant experience, exile, and border life have long been rich subjects for artists and writers. Weaving together materials and images, language and music, choreography and conscience, these creative groups and individuals make strong and moving statements about migrant rights, loss of family members and connections, and in our current political climate, the urgent need for change to address the worldwide immigration crisis. Here is a sampling of various works, intimate and large-scale, local and international.
Visual Arts: Mexican-born, San-Francisco-based artist Ana Teresa Fernández and volunteers have painted sections of the border fence blue for her project Borrando la Frontera/Erasing the Border: http://anateresafernandez.com/1718-2/. Also using the fence as a canvas, United World College students from several countries crossed the U.S.–Mexico border earlier this year to turn a stretch of it into a massive mural: https://vimeo.com/158498038. At La Melgosa (an art space at 1026 Grand Ave, Phoenix, AZ), a 100-foot mural, designed by artist Mata Ruda and painted by local artists, activists and community members, draws attention to the tragic loss of life at the U.S.-Mexico border: http://www.blogher.com/mural-missing (English) or http://www.redfinancieramx.mx/index.php/internacional/item/20298-mural-en-phoenix-muestra-tragedia-de-miles-de-migrantes-muertos-en-desierto (Spanish). Oakland-based artist/activist Favianna Rodriguez uses butterfly imagery and metaphor of rebirth in her powerful projects about human rights and migration: http://endlesscanvas.com/?tag=immigration-issues. And in Saint Petersburg, Russia, street artists offer vibrant commentary on the global migration crisis in an exhibit called Crossing Borders/Crossing Boundaries, installed at and around an abandoned plastics factory: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jaime-rojo-steven-harrington/rafael-schacter-street-art-museum-russia_b_11066158.html. Working in a different format, graphic designer Karla Blanca Equeda, based in San Luis Potosí, conveys messages in a smaller, but no less, impactful, format: https://www.behance.net/gallery/36777043/Carteles-part1.
Dance: Many choreographers and dancers have incorporated themes of migration, separation and longing into their work. In Box Migration, a section of the larger piece Speak, Angels, choreographed by Janice Garrett and Charles Moulten, the dancers seem to create a wall with their bodies: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z2q_BtjtdDU. La danza de Fernando, choreographed by David Fernandez and presented at the New York Latin Choreographers Festival, presents another border scenario: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yNmTJw8Z7Xw. And Hogar, choreographed by Ballet Hispánico’s Artistic Director and CEO Eduardo Vilaro and performed by that world-renowned company, conjures notions of isolation, connection, flight and sanctuary: https://vimeo.com/96588676 (password: bhdance).
Music: An example of the power of music, the Chicago-based Mariachi Monumental de Mexico with singer Jesús Ramos play the Star Spangled Banner to open a local sports event: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hKfSBEeIho8. Columbian-American singer/songwriter La Muna (Natalia Serna who spent a year working with the KBI) uses her music to offer solace to migrants and speak to their plight: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hLeDcYa79Zc. And in another genre and context, the Silk Road Ensemble, founded by famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma in 2000, endeavors to awaken curiosity, compassion and connection among the peoples of the world through their music. Enjoy a selection of their performances here: https://www.youtube.com/user/silkroadproject.
Poetry: Written in 1939 in response to the antagonism and indifference faced by Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany, W. H. Auden’s Refugee Blues is still relevant today: https://allpoetry.com/Refugee-Blues. Addressing more recent history, poet Marcel Hernandez Castillo, who migrated to the U.S. from Mexico as a child and is now among those granted deportation relief through Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA), turns to poetry to express his feelings about being undocumented, examine issues of identity, and critique how immigration is treated by governments and the media: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/poetry/how-poetry-helped-marcelo-hernandez-castillo-speak-out-on-immigration/. And a cellphone app combining GPS technology and poetry offers both navigation to water sources and lyrical advice to people crossing the treacherous desert borderlands: http://www.truthdig.com/arts_culture/item/transborder_immigrant_tool_series_poetry_survival_us_mexico_border_20160808.
Collaborations: Border issues have often inspired artists from different genres to come together. In Fatal Migrations, writer Daniel Alarcón and data artist Josh Begley honor the tragic deaths at the border in a stark, yet moving, interactive project of aerial images depicting places where lives were lost: https://theintercept.com/2016/06/04/fatal-migrations/. Now on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, DeLIMITations: A Survey of the 1821 United States–Mexico Border by artists Marcos Ramirez ERRE (from Tijuana, Mexico) and David Taylor (from Arizona) documents the historical boundary between the two countries with photographs and video taken as the artists journeyed along the route from the Oregon Coast to the Gulf of Mexico, planting 47 steel markers along the way: http://www.mcasd.org/exhibitions/delimitations-survey-1821-united-states-mexico-border. Also, landscape photographer Richard Misrach and composer and performance artist Guillermo Galindo have published a book of their joint project, Border Cantos, reviewed in this issue of Passages, which include photographs, musical instruments made from found objects left behind by migrants, and online video performances of Galindo playing his compositions on those invented instruments.