Friday, June 26, 2009

Notes from Maria Teresa Fernandez

Since viewing Maria Teresa Fernandez's photo exhibit, Cerca de la Cerca, we've been trading e-mails, she has shared some of her thoughts on her work and her experiences.

Fernandez grew up in San Luis Potsi, Mexico, but now lives in San Diego, where the border fence looms large for her. She has photographed it from both sides, and documented its transformation from a single fence to a heavily guarded, well-lit dual walls. She immigrated to San Diego with her family in 1991, and from that date, she has never ceased to tell her children that they must value the huge opportunity that they had and to try to keep the best of both worlds in their lives.

Fernandez has studies Art History as well as photography and has shown her work in Oaxaca., Gudalajara, Mexicali, Tijuana, San Diego, L.A., and New York, among others.

In the small town that she grew up in, Fenandez was aware of the natural borders of the surrounding desert and imposing mountains, yet was always aware of how people's imaginations went far beyond these geographical limits. In the same way, when she encountered the man-made border that divides the U.S. from Mexico, she saw how it traverses across the lives of people living on the border, and was intrigued with how inhabitants have turned the southern side into a canvass upon which they can paint their hopes, dreams, despairs and angers.

For Fernandez, photography gives her a way to describe through light and color, and she began to photograph the border fence in 2000, inspired by the necessarily creative way of life of Tijuana inhabitants. She photographed houses made of materials discarded by North Americans and maquiladoras, and discovered homes made of refrigerator doors, garage doors, aluminum siding, old cartons, tires, packaging, and whatever else could be salvaged to create walls and roofs.

Fernandez began this project in black and white, which resulted in very dramatic artistic shots, but she soon realized that she needed to work in color, if she wanted to show the depth of color, the variety of textures and the subtle differences from one material to the next in the construction materials of the houses. She also decided to work in color when she began documenting the artist works being constructed on the border wall, as well as to distinguish between the different paints peeling off the fence and the general disintegration of the wall: the corrosion, the oxidation, the yellowing color that is, to Fernandez, the very color of Tijuana earth that, at some points, covered the fence. In these places, the fence seemed to become a part of the earth, mixed in with the land as if it were only a simple scar.

This has changed in the past years as U.S. national security has increased, but Fernandez has continued her work documenting the the reconstruction and installation of a new wall across the Tijuana-San Diego border. "This double fence is a profanity to the countryside, it has changed the way people think: without respect to nature of the most difficult and dangerous goal of would-be immigrants. In a certain manner, the fence has been successful. Each day I encounter people who wish to cross, not only those from the south, but those who have been deported for their efforts to cross. I always feel a great affinity to each person. I share what they feel and it makes me very sad that I have no power to do anything for them. In seeing them close to the fence, shadowed by it, waiting for the opportune moment to cross, I think on each individual history, and what they have left behind in their town or city.

"Migration is a natural phenomena, and it has been converted into a huge problem in many countries in the world. We need to understand the situation and the powerful countries need to give a hand to those that need it: everybody needs to help out everybody.

"And this is how nine years of following both projects have gone, always giving me more information to continue with them. Both projects grow and develop, reproducing and I hope that over all of the fence, I am able to document its fall and to watch it die."

Playa de Tijuana

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