The Mexican-American border is a beautiful place, a testament to the vastness of the desert and its unspoiled beauty. The Mexican-American border is also a tough place, a contentious place, littered with discarded clothing, bullet casings and dreams deferred.
That same beautiful vastness of the border area makes it hard to regulate, and the unspoiled border area is sometimes used as a tool. U.S. border agents drag large tires through the sand at the border to create a pristine barrier.
That way, if someone does cross the border, their unique shoeprints might be used to identify them later.
These are all things to be learned inside the timely new exhibit “Border Cantos: Sight & Sound Explorations from the Mexican-American Border.” The exhibit, which opens to the public on Saturday at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, is a joint project of photographer Richard Misrach and sculptor and abstract artist Guillermo Galindo.
Considering the recent push for a full-length border wall from newly inaugurated U.S. President Donald Trump, the exhibit could not be more timely. Except it wasn’t planned that way. Misrach, all while on sojourns in his Volkswagen camper bus, has been taking photos of the Mexican-American border for more than a decade.
He met Galindo in 2012 and they started work on their collaborative project shortly thereafter. The completed project has already been on display in two other locations – the San Jose Museum of Art and most recently at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas.
Using objects found at the Mexican-American border, artist Guillermo Galindo has made a series of instruments that are on display as part of the new “Border Cantos” exhibit at Crystal Bridges. The strings affixed to this discarded jacket make it a playable instrument.
“We worked on it [the border series] before it became a prime-time news event every night,” said Misrach, who like Galindo, attended a media preview at the museum on Thursday morning.
The artists both say their work is not an overt political statement. Instead, the exhibit attempts to document the complex realities of the border area. With a few exceptions, Misrach’s photos don’t show humans. Instead, they show discarded backpacks and tire tracks or steel pipes in one of the many miles of border area where a prohibitive barrier already exists – about 1/3 of the border’s approximately 2,000 miles already has a wall or fence of some kind.
The first image he shot for the exhibit, years before he knew what the focus would be, is of a simple blue barrel labeled “agua.” These water dispensaries, Misrach said, were installed by Christian humanitarian groups in areas where border crossers were mostly likely to die from fatigue or dehydration. Misrach eventually met up with one of the groups who set up such water stops. He remembers talking to a man from the opposite side of the political spectrum.