Other compelling objects and symbols of economic survival and necessity, bordados, or embroidered food sacks, hang like laundry from wall to wall at the center and are marked by lard stains from transported tamales. Piles on the floor are marijuana bags, brown burlap and marked “coffee,” that are used by migrants who are forced to become “mules” by drug traffickers.
The stories of the migrants are etched in these and other remnants found on the U.S. side of the border by independent artist Valarie James, who has a studio in Amado, Ariz., near the border. They are old but they have a new job to do as powerful installations in “Beyond the Border: The Wall, the People and the Land,” a stunning exhibit that opens Saturday night at the Coconino Center for the Arts.
The various works in the show address the human and environmental impact of issues that surround the U.S./Mexico border, the border wall and border policies.
All artists are exploring the impact of the border and how changing policies affect the environment and people living in this area.
The comprehensive exhibition in the main gallery includes nine installation pieces by invited independent artist James; two pieces by highly regarded Flagstaff artist Raechel Running; and 26 juried pieces, including a sound sculpture and two films, from artists around the country.
“The borderland is geographically a place of division, but also boasts an undeniable unity between people, cultures and communities,” says Running. “People are passionate about these issues and these stories. The policies take a back seat. It’s difficult to share policies, but it’s more about sharing stories and experiences, and the role of the artist as commentator on society.”
Running, whose father is well-known photographer John Running, was born and raised in Flagstaff and has spent the past five years as an artist-in-residence in Casas Grandes in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua.
She says the border is about 2,200 miles long from east to west in Arizona and New Mexico. Historically, it is part of La Gran Chichimeca, a term used by the Spanish conquistadors of the 16th century to refer to an area of the north-central Mexican plateau.
“Geographically, the borderland is a place that divides, but we have this opportunity to unite,” Running says. “We need a new paradigm that shows our kinship to each other.”
The exhibit also includes photographs in a traveling exhibit, Continental Divide, which features photographs from the International League of Conservation Photographers, taken during a January 2009 expedition by a team of 12 renowned photographers to the borderland to document the ecological and human impact of the border wall.
“Beyond the Border will be one of the most powerfully emotional exhibitions that we’ve seen at the Coconino Center for the Arts,” says John Tannous, executive director of Flagstaff Cultural Partners. “Valarie James’ installations include found objects from the border region; some of them are difficult to see and heartbreaking. Alternatively, the photographs from the ILCP are gorgeous and present the region’s natural beauty in a way that few have seen for themselves.”
Other even more touching found objects are in the smaller Jewell Gallery where little blue jeans, backpacks, stuffed animals and tiny shoes are reminders of the toll taken on the very youngest migrants to America.
These Ofrendas a la Frontera, or Offerings to the Border, were created by high school students at Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy, and are based on their experiences spending time in the border region to do relief work.
The collection garnered by James is at the heart of the Border show. Her friend, Shawn Skabelund, a professor at Northern Arizona University and an installation artist, says his friend Val lives a couple hundred yards from a border patrol checkpoint on Arivaca Road in Amado. By the time migrants reach her property, they have usually walked from 30 to 40 miles for days. Most are on the verge of collapse, out of food and water, and are exhausted and blistered. Yet, James says, “They still have hope in their hearts that never ceases to amaze.”
It is hope like this that powers the “Beyond the Border” show.
“This is the tie-in from the past to the present, from the present to the future,” says Running. “When we break the walls, we can actually find the place where we connect, and that is the hopeful place, that’s what this show is all about—it’s about hope.”
The “Beyond the Border: The Wall, the People and the Land,” exhibit will be celebrated with an opening reception Sat, Sept. 22, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Coconino Center for the Arts, 2300 N. Ft. Valley Road. The reception will include local mariachi band, Mariachi Contiental, providing live music and tamales will be served from Burritos Fiesta. This exhibition is part of the Flagstaff Festival of Science and will be on display through Oct. 31 at the center.
For more information, call the center at 779-2300 or visit www.culturalpartners.org.
Bustling border: the many events surrounding the show
By Flag Live staff
Check out a lecture and presentation by Dan Millis, of the Sierra Club Borderlands Campaign, and Krista Schlyer, photographer, writer and curator of the Continental Divide exhibit. Schlyer will discuss her new book, “Continental Divide: Wildlife, People and the Wall,” and Millis will address the myriad issues at play around the border. Sun, Sept. 23, at 4 p.m. Coconino Center for the Arts, 2300 N. Ft. Valley Road.
Sat, Sept. 29, at 2 p.m. Flagstaff Photography Center, 107 N. San Francisco.
Reception, Fri, Oct. 5, from 6 to 9 p.m. Flagstaff Photography Center, 107 N. San Francisco St.
Fri, Oct. 12, at 7 p.m. A CD release concert featuring music and spoken-word performances from a variety of artists. The recording includes Sweet Honey in the Rock, Amos Lee, Michael Franti and Spearhead, Calexico, Joel Rafael, Tom Russell and Eliza Gilkyson. Artists confirmed for the concert include Cyril Barret, Chuck Cheesman, Pachuco & Classik, m. henry, Glenn Weyant, Los Románticos, Christa and Tom Agostino. Coconino Center for the Arts, 2300 N. Ft. Valley Road.
Raechel Running’s new work explores the concept of the Nahuatal word. According to a press release: “‘NEPANTLA,’ world at the crossroads. A state of in between. Neither here nor there. It is a place of meeting; clashing, merging, fighting and uniting people to the heart’s pain, joy and resiliency through the endearing traditions of cultures intricately tied to the land.” Opening reception, Fri, Sept. 28, from 6 to 8 p.m. Flagstaff Photography Center, 107 N. San Francisco, Ste. 3. Call the center for details at 774-2544.
To read recent Flag Live cover story features, see www.flaglive.com/index.cfm?section=cover.
Additional photos for this story:
A small sampling of the many discarded objects found in the border region. Photo by Betsey Bruner
Wives and mothers carefully stitch these colorful cloths for wrapping up food for loved ones to take out in the field or when attempting an illegal crossing of the Mexican border into the U.S. Photo by Betsey Bruner
“Memories of Juan Gonzalez,” by Patrick McArdle and To-Ree-Nee Wolf of Tucson. Photo by Betsey Bruner
“North by Southwest” by David Willison
"My Mother" by Annie Lopez.
Cyanotype on Tamale Wrapper Paper
“Cross My Heart” by Raechel Running
"Ni de Aqui ni de Allá" by Raoul Deal