Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Border Fence, Tijuana, MX

Avenida Internaciónal become Calle Al Aereopuerto west of el centro de Tijuana in its run along the south side of the border. It passes the airport and continues east towards Tecate.

I wanted to return to a particular section of the border fence, just behind the airport. I’d seen it yesterday while Oscar Ortega was driving me over to the site of his newest sculpture.

The border fence stands more prominent in the lives of people who live south of it. In the U.S., cities stop well north of the border, far enough away that the border fence remains out of sight unless you go looking for it. I stand on a hill in Colonia Reynosa, and look west, the fence continuing out into the Pacific, rising and falling with the desert hills. On the U.S. side, all I see are hills spotted with low desert shrubs; on the Mexican side, urban landscape continues right up to the wall. On the southern side, cities roll right up and crash into the border. In Colonia Federale, I have seen garden plots cultivated in the shadow of the fence, vines growing up the fence itself.

People have draped and decorated the fence with their prayers and fears and criticisms, with wood and paint and cloth, with sculpture and words and image, turning it into a veritable alter.

At this particular point, a series of artworks cascade into each other. An anonymous photographer has captured images relative to the border, to Tijuana, and transferred them to cloth, which s/he then draped over the fence for nearly a half mile.

The images are all black and white, and repeated several times before the next print begins its run. The images reveal many perspectives of the fence in haunting simplicity. The back of a woman and her children, sitting on a hill that overlooks the border fence accompanied by the sunburst aura of Guadalupe, empty space where the saint herself would normally be. A collection of silver jewelry against black velvet. A man climbing over the fence. Shadows of people waiting. Men in cowboy boots and hats in an airport, looking overwhelmed and confused.

One after another the images line the fence itself, giving depth to what the fence is, what it means in people’s lives. The printed cloth blows in the wind, and will hang there until the weather tatters it and it falls off.
Further west, but beginning just where the prints end (or begin), simple wooden crosses hang. They have been painted white, and assembled with the crosspiece not always at right angles. In black paint, names of people who have died crossing the border have been painted on the crosses, and desconoscido for those who died anonymously and were discovered anonymously.

These desconoscidos make me think, more than the named crosses, of who it was that found the body and who waits, at some point south, for contact, reassurance, a note, a postcard, something, anything, from this person? It is those crosses desconosidos that make me painfully aware of the webbed links of each person’s life, of how many people, however far away they are, the fence has affected.

In seeing the border itself, it is difficult to understand what it stands for, but these two installations make the human implications of the fence painfully clear.


  1. Those who attempt to "enter without inspection" (as the Border Patrol describes it) will send all of their identification and important papers on ahead of them. They all cross anonymously, which is why so many of the dead are "desconocido".

    The complex process of identifying our dead migrants would make an interesting article.

  2. Great posts. The creation of art on and about the border wall spans its entire length, from Tijuana, to Taller Yonke in Nogales, to exhibitions sponsored by Galeria 409 in Brownsville:

    regarding the deaths of immigrants, many of whom are pushed deeper into the desert as they try to circumvent border walls, there is more information at the No Border Wall website: