An inflated Statue of Liberty stands tall, green and mannequin-faced, outside the Oceanside Museum of Art in San Diego, where a Colonia Libertad Consulate officer is busy clanking on an old typewriter issuing passports. Applicants are lined up to have their pictures taken, and to turn in their expired passports in exchange for their Pasaporte Libre — the Colonia Libertad passport that guarantees its citizens “free movement along the entire surface, marine or aerospace,” says Omar Pimienta, the artist in charge of consulado móvil, the mobile consulate of the participatory art piece “Welcome to Colonia Libertad”. The passport office will be issuing additional Colonia Libertad passports on November 5, 1:00-3:00 pm.
“Welcome to Colonia Libertad” 2017, Omar Pimienta / Nazli Ghassemi (Staff)
Pimienta is one of the six artists taking part in the show “unDocumenta.” This timely exhibition which is part of the Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA takes the Getty Funded initiative to a new level by showcasing works of artists in the Southern California region, inclusive of Tijuana, Mexico.
There is a rich history of border art activism in the region where individual and artist collectives use art as a political act to bring attention to issues between the two neighboring countries. “San Diego and Tijuana have been very important places in creating a dialogue about the border, about immigration and labor issues” says the curator, Alessandra Moctezuma.
The artists in the show are all responding to the charged anti-immigrant political climate of our times, focusing on topics ranging from nationality, identity, militarized borders, the undocumented, the invisible laborers, to the infamous border wall proposal. Although these issues have intensified under the Trump administration, the U.S.–Mexico border communities have been dealing with these problems for decades.
“I wanted this show to be more about the topics and issues of this region. The exhibition is about the interrelationship and connection between the two countries,” Moctezuma says.
Cleverly placed on the hallway wall just outside the main gallery is the map of San Diego – Tijuana border region, titled “Urban Landscapes” by Marcos Ramirez, aka ERRE, best known for his site specific works. The piece which resonates a cold metal military feel is an aluminum panel diagonally cut into two—the sections barely touching. The overlaid camouflaged mapping of different locations on both sides of the border are populated by yellow icons signifying legal and illegal activities in marked areas, ranging from factories, to carnival masks, handcuffs and knives. Moctezuma points out the representation of San Diego and Tijuana as mirror images of each other in the piece. “Same issues are shown on both sides. We are not so different and face the same situations. . .We think of this border especially in the recent twenty years as a militarized border, and that has affected the communities on both sides.”
At the entrance to the main room is Erre’s “Prejudice Project”— a lit billboard displaying a picture of a man’s back standing at the border overlooking Tijuana. The man is the famous historian Mike Davis, best known for his book, City of Quartz. A poem by Davis, written back in 2006, is printed on the mirror reflecting across the billboard.
“. . .I hate the wall and the empire of fear that hides behind it.
I look at Mexico, the mother of my children, with affection not apprehension.
The border cages our dreams and scars our hearts with prejudice. . .”
“The poem counters the image of the Minuteman and the vigilante that are trying to separate us,” says Moctezuma, who is married to Mike Davis.
In the displayed works inside the main gallery the artists bring attention to the plight of the immigrant in the region through visual documentation of their art ‘activism’ projects. Claudia Cano focuses on the invisible immigrant laborer in her performance piece “La Chacha” or the “Cleaning Lady” as she inhabits the persona of Rosa Hernández, a maid in a pink aproned uniform, whose appearance at absurd places — the pier, the boardwalk, an art exhibition gallery, the border fence — makes her presence highly visible in public.
Dominic Paul Miller, the “honorary Latino” is the only American participant in the exhibition whose interest in understanding labor exploitation issues led him to a collaborative work with Ollin Calli, a group of factory workers in Tijuana. In the maquiladora art pieces titled “Diagrama de Dependencia”, workers were paid for their time in creating drawings, photograms, which are on display over tables emulating an industrial setting in the middle of the museum gallery.
Moctezuma talks about the artists’ projects honoring the sacrifices the laborers and the undocumented immigrants are making every day in their journey across the border.
Teresita De La Torre’s durational performance art piece “365 days in an Immigrant’s Shirt” posted daily for a year on Instagram was instigated by a tattered shirt she came across on one of her volunteer runs with the nonprofit Water Stations—leaving water gallons for the undocumented immigrants crossing the desert. She documented herself wearing the shirt “that a brave soul left behind in search of a new beginning,” she wrote in one of her posts.
“They [the laborers] play such an important part in our economy. We hear about criminalization not about their contributions. Artists pay homage to these contributions,” Moctezuma says.
In a video projection, the border fence at Playas de Tijuana fades and blends in with the ocean and the sky beyond as the brown metal is painted blue by Ana Teresa Fernández in her performance project “Borando la Frontera” (Erasing the Border), transforming the space between the two neighboring countries.
What makes this exhibition stand out among the other PST: LA/LA shows, is how a young group of artists at a small museum, in a small city are creating relevant work that is bringing awareness about the important political and social issues of our times — Recreating a world where borders are erased, and passports are issued to a free world.
“The exhibition serves as an artistic barricade against the idea of a walled border. It’s more about opening up. Many of the artists are utopian in the way that they are breaking down barriers and the obstacles to migration,” says Moctezuma.
“Borrando la Frontera” (Erasing the Border) 2012, Ana Teresa Fernandez / Courtesy of Artist
On November 11, at the official reception of the show 6:00-8:00 pm, Erre’s site specific installation on the façade of the museum will challenge the present administration’s proposed concept of a border wall. “UnDocumenta” is on view at Oceanside Museum of Art until January 28, 2018.