Monday, March 1, 2010

For artists, border fence is subject and venue

March 1, 2010
Brownsville Herald
by Laura Tillman

The U.S.-Mexico border fence was both the subject of protest and the venue at the "Art Against the Wall" exhibition on Sunday in Brownsville.

About a dozen artists hung or rested their work on the fence in Hope Park, overlooking the Rio Grande. A 30-foot ladder fashioned out of bamboo and twine, a wreath of ribbon and artificial flowers measuring 8 feet in diameter, and a deflated black inner tube that had been salvaged from along the riverbank were included in the exhibition. The art flapped in the breeze for about three and a half hours before stronger winds forced the artists inside.

Meanwhile, Border Patrol stood watch of the stretch of river under the Gateway International Bridge, maintaining a distance of about 100 yards from the artists. Some artists approached the agents, who reportedly asked questions about the event but kept their opinions to themselves.

Mark Clark, the owner and founder of the nearby Galeria 409, devised the exhibition as a form of non-violent protest against the border fence. He didn’t know who or what would show up during Sunday’s show, which was not advertised to the public. But he did plan ahead: Clark spent about three months painting his own contribution to the show and got a permit from the Brownsville Parks and Recreation Department to have an art display in the park.

Clark’s painting, titled "La Venganza de Monctezuma," or "Montezuma’s Revenge," depicts the chaotic convergence of dozens of Mexican figures walking through a gap in the border fence into the United States.

"It’s every gringo’s worst fears of Mexican immigration," Clark said.

The six-foot by four-foot canvas required about five minutes of explanation from Clark to simply enumerate its dozens of figures. Among these were a shaman dispensing peyote buttons, Americans covering their ears at the sound of a mariachi band, an unemployed McDonald’s worker selling Mexican ice cream, Mayan women washing their clothes in a blonde woman’s swimming pool, a Mayan soccer player and an American soccer player kicking around the decapitated head of a Dallas Cowboys football player, a native Mexican carving hieroglyphs into tablets of the Ten Commandments, and a statue of George Washington lying disassembled on the ground.

Local art professor David Freeman built the 30-foot tall ladder, which Clark helped him to assemble, and propped it up against the fence. Held vertically, the ladder is taller than the fence itself. Freeman glued thorns to the bottom rungs of the ladder, signifying the pain and suffering that many immigrants experience once they reach the U.S.

"To me the wall represents everything that’s wrong with the United States," Freeman said. "All the malfeasance and avarice. "It’s anti-democratic and anti-integration."

Brownsville’s stretch of border fence remains incomplete. Next to the artists exhibition spot the structure cuts off, with metal poles signifying the increments where it will eventually be completed. For now, artists could view their works from both sides of the fence. On one side they could see an oil painting of the Rio Grande, viewed fence-free from that very spot. Standing on the other side, they could see the river itself.

Clark says he’d like to continue the tradition of hanging artwork on the wall annually.

"Until they take the thing down," he said.

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