Has American Borderland Art Jumped The Wall?

 border cantos

As a series of slickly-marketed and highly-commodified borderland art events were being put on by a group of well-funded sponsors last year, not far away along a migrant trail, a lone artist was attaching paper butterflies to the Mexican side of the borderwall.

The butterflies were an ephemeral work and humanitarian gesture to be experienced not by gallery patrons sipping champagne or purchased in a gift shop, but by those who were about to make the long and dangerous journey through the Arizona Sonoran Desert.

Ten years ago The Anta Project began as an unfunded, grassroots, guerilla art work and it continues to be so today.

However, with the recent advent of so many well-funded and slickly-marketed, one-off borderland art projects destined for galleries and private collections, disillusionment is an emotion I find myself increasingly grappling with.

Would these same parachuting artists who speak of their solidarity and sympathy for the state of the borderlands have created their art if there was no funding?

Does the funding control the output and direction of these activist artists?

And if so, is their message controlled as well?

Every time I have spoken about The Anta Project, I’ve tried to encourage other artists to address border issues --- or any issue they feel passionate about --- regardless of funding.

And it is clear that many have taken up the call.

After a decade of playing the walls, militarized infrastructure and migrant ephemera in searing heat, freezing cold and occasionally at gun point, it is difficult not to have attachment to the work and legacy I've created.

When I see, for example, images of a wall segment hung in a gallery being played by a musician, my ego gets in the way of my perception.

And I’m working on that.

But at the same time, the punk/hippie/outsider/DIY/ grassroots/guerilla artist in me can't help be offended by the sterile, precious and pretentious portrayal of the militarized borderlands in the same work.

The borderwall is an a ugly, dirty, dangerous instrument to play.

To play the wall one has to travel the borderlands and bear witness to all it radiates for an audience of migrants, residents, ranchers, militia and Border Patrol in a gallery of rocks and cactus.

Playing the border wall is difficult and it takes constant practice since the wall is never tuned the same.

The act of playing the border wall --- banging and bowing it --- is to transform it physically as well as in mind, spirit and intent.

Playing a piece of discarded borderwall in an air-conditioned gallery for a comfortable audience to my mind undermines all that I have tried to accomplish this past decade or so.

But then again, so it goes.

Gotta let it go.

Bottom line: Despite all the recent well-funded borderland art hoopla, I hope those who believe in creating activist art will continue to make their art regardless of whether there is money in it for them.

The world already has plenty of over-priced collector-edition coffee table books.

What we need are more paper butterflies.

 border cantos