La Tapiz Fronteriza Challenges the Border
Wednesday, 02 February 2011 19:07Artists Gabriela Munoz and M. Jenea Sanchez wanted to show that there is more to the U.S.-Mexico border than the scary, militarized and divisive place it’s depicted in the news and by the government.
They accomplished this with La Tapiz Fronteriza, a border art exhibition on display in the Lionel Rombach Gallery at the University of Arizona until Feb. 3. The two artists, along with a handful of the exhibition’s curators and other collaborators, held a reception and talk about the exhibition on Jan. 27 at the UA’s School of Art.
The La Tapiz Fronteriza exhibit consists mainly of a tapestry, “La Tapiz Fronteriza de la Virgen de Guadalupe,” which depicts the Virgin of Guadalupe on both sides. Munoz and Sanchez also included their own faces on the Virgin, although they said during the talk that it felt a little sacrilegious to include themselves. The two artists also compared the popularity of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico to Lady Gaga’s popularity in the U.S. and said that they wanted to borrow some of her power and influence for their project.
One side of the tapestry has the Virgin with Sanchez’s face looking out at the United States, while the other has the Virgin with Munoz’s face looking out at Mexico, highlighting the way the border fence divides people and families, according to Munoz and Sanchez. This was also highlighted during the performance of putting the tapestry on the fence, as it had to be woven through by people on both sides of the border.
Munoz and Sanchez said that they collected yucca from around the border to create the paper for the tapestry, and used natural India ink and watercolors for the image itself. To help with drawing the image of the Virgin, they projected a giant picture of her onto a kitchen wall and used it as a guide.
Two tapestries were made at the same time as part of the exhibition. One was woven into the border fence on Dec. 12, 2009, which is also the day of observance for the Virgin of Guadalupe. This tapestry was left on the fence to degrade as a statement about the border fence’s environmental impact, according to Munoz and Sanchez. The other tapestry is the one currently on display at the UA.
John-Michael Warner, the curator of the exhibit at the UA, also collaborated on putting the tapestry on the border after hearing about the project from a friend at the Phoenix Art Museum. During the talk, Sanchez showed a picture of herself on Warner’s shoulders weaving the top row of the tapestry into the border fence.
Munoz and Sanchez said that they were worried about the Border Patrol stopping them during the installation of the piece on the fence, but they were never bothered despite the Border Patrol driving by a few times.
Warner is an art history Ph.D. student at the UA whose research includes border art. Warner said that he looks at the border not only as a physical, geopolitical area, but also as a psychological and social border and the border as a “discursive zone.” He said that many of these themes are also present in La Tapiz Fronteriza.
"La Tapiz Fronteriza explores how the border impacts human lives, divides families, strips undocumented workers of employment protections and negatively impacts the fragile desert environment,” Warner said in a press release about the exhibition.
The Fronteriza exhibition was brought to the UA after Warner proposed it to the School of Art during an open call for exhibitions last year. He emphasized that anyone, even if they aren’t an art student, can propose to curate an exhibition during these open calls.
Warner said that he knew he wanted to do more with the exhibition after its initial performance at the border in 2009. He said that he sees its display at the UA as a way of increasing the duration, impact and discourse of La Tapiz Fronteriza.
According to Warner, four freshman writing classes at the UA have been through to see the exhibition, and around 40 people attended the reception on Jan. 27. La Tapiz Fronteriza has also gotten some attention on the internet, with a friend of Warner’s who is a university professor in Poland using the project in her American Studies class after seeing it on his Facebook page.
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