Border art is a contemporary art practice rooted in the socio-political experience(s) of those on the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, or frontera. Since its conception in the mid-80s, this artistic practice has led to the development of questions surrounding homeland, borders, surveillance, identity, race, ethnicity, and national origin(s).
Border art as a conceptual artistic practice, however, opens up the possibility for artists to explore similar concerns of identity and national origin(s) but whose location is not specific to the U.S-México border.
Border art can be defined as an art that is created in reference to any number of physical or imagined boundaries. This art can but is not limited to social, political, physical, emotional and/or nationalist issues. Border art is not confined to one particular medium. Border art/artists often address the forced politicization of human bodies and physical land and the arbitrary, yet incredibly harmful, separations that are created by these borders and boundaries. These artists are often "border crossers" themselves. They may cross borders of traditional art-making (through performance, video, or a combination of mediums). They may at once be artists and activists, existing in multiple social roles at once. Many border artists defy easy classifications in their artistic practice and work.
A border can be a division, dividing groups of people and families. People can tell their stories through art.
History of border art specific to the U.S.-Mexico border
Ila Nicole Sheren states, "Border Art didn't become a category until the Border Art Workshop/Taller de Arte Fronterizo (BAW/TAF). Starting in 1984, and continuing in several iterations through the early twenty-first century, the binational collective transformed San Diego-Tijuana into a highly charged site for conceptual performance art ...The BAW/TAF artists were to link performance, site-specificity, and the U.S.-Mexico Border, as well as the first to export "border art" to other geographic locations and situations." A proponent of Border Art is Guillermo Gómez-Peña, founder of The Border Arts Workshop/Taller de Arte Fronterizo. The Border Arts Workshop/Taller de Arte Fronterizo pioneered tackling the political tensions of the borderlands, at a time when the region was gaining increased attention from the media due to the NAFTA debates. The contradiction of the border opening to the free flow of capital but simultaneously closing to the flow of immigrants provided the opportunity to address other long-existing conflicts within the region.
Antonio Prieto argues that "As opposed to folk artists, the new generation belongs to the middle class, has formal training and self-consciously conceives itself as producer of 'border art.' Moreover, their art is politically charged, and assumes a confrontational stance vis-à-vis both Mexican and U.S. government policies."
Prieto notes that “While the first examples of Chicano art in the late sixties took up issues of land, community and oppression, it was not until later that graphic artists like Rupert García began to explicitly depict the border in their work. García's 1973 silkscreen "¡Cesen Deportación!," for example, calls for an end to the exploitative treatment of migrant workers who are allowed to cross the border and are then deported at the whim of U.S. economic and political interests.”
Prieto notes that for Mexican and Chicano artists, the aesthetics of rascuache created a hybridization of both Mexican and American visual culture. While it does not have an equivalent English translation, the term, rascuache, can be likened to the artistic term, kitsch. It literally translates from Spanish as "penniless", "worthless", and "in bad taste" with this latter definition closest to the English term, kitsch.
Photographer David Taylor focused on the U.S.-Mexico border by following monuments which mark the official borders of The United States and México outlined as a result of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. He quotes on his website, “My travels along the border have been done both alone and in the company of agents. In total, the resulting pictures are intended to offer a view into locations and situations that we generally do not access and portray a highly complex physical, social and political topography during a period of dramatic change.” In his project, Taylor has covered physical borders by documenting the environment and landscape along the border, but also addresses social issues by engaging with locals, patrolman, smugglers, and many other people living in and being affected by the U.S.-México border. He also chooses to address political issues by focusing on the large issue of drug trafficking.
Borders can also be conceptual. For example, borders between classes of people or races. Gloria Anzaldúa’s conceptualization of borders goes beyond national borders. Anzaldúa states: "The U.S.-Mexican border es una herida abierta where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds. And before a scab forms it hemorrhages again, the lifeblood of two worlds merging to form a third country - a border culture." Borderlands. Border artists include Ana Mendieta, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Coco Fusco, and Mona Hatoum.
Prieto notes that “This double task --being critical while at the same time proposing a utopian borderless future-- was undertaken with the tools of conceptual art.” Conceptual art was a European avant-garde artistic practice which focused on the intellectual development of an artwork rather than art as object.
Sheren additionally echoes that “‘Border’ began to refer to a variety of non-physical boundaries: those between cultural or belief systems, those separating the colonial and the postcolonial, and even those demarcating various kinds of subjects.” In this way, borders transcend physicality and become ‘portable’.
Trinh T. Minh-ha additionally observes “boundaries not only express the desire to free/to subject one practice, one culture, one national community from/to another, but also expose the extent to which cultures are products of the continuing struggle between official and unofficial narratives–those largely circulated in favor of the State and its policies of inclusion, incorporation and validation, as well as of exclusion, appropriation and dispossession.”
- Sheren, Ila (2015). Portable Borders: Performance Art and Politics on the U.S. Frontera since 1984. Austin: University of Texas Press. p. 23.
- Encyclopedia of Activism and Social Justice. Ed. Gary L. Anderson and Kathryn G. Herr. Vol. 2. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Reference, 2007. p627-628.
- Prieto, Antonio. "Border Art as a Political Strategy". Information Services Latin America. Retrieved December 6, 2015.
- "David Taylor". www.dtaylorphoto.com. Retrieved 2015-12-09.
- Anzaldúa, Gloria (1987). Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1 ed.). San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books. p. 25.
- Minh-ha, Trinh T. (2011). elsewhere, within here immigration, refugeeism and the boundary event. New York: Routledge. p. 45.