As a means of expressing culture, art has become permanently intertwined with the society it hails from. It documents beliefs, depicts people of importance, and outlines current struggles. The Greensboro Project Space presents Objects from the Borderlands: The U.S-Mexico Border Anti-Archive Exhibit. As part of the 17 Days Arts Festival, in collaboration with the Fabric of Freedom organization, this exhibit seeks to humanize the numbers and statistics that follow our current immigration issues.
The exhibit is held in a small room off the side of a warehouse. The entirety of the exhibit consists of a few maps and a variety of discarded and dirtied objects. What makes these forgotten articles different from regular trash was that they were found on the border of Mexico and the United States.
Artist Susan Harbage Page created this exhibit after ten years of collecting objects along the border. Recognizing that about 17 percent of Guilford County’s population is Latin American, she collaborated with them in the form of interviews. Page would then pair these interviews with art that reflected their content.
On a separate table there sat a sweater and a box of chocolate bars. Both of these were covered in long strips of paper that contained fragments from one of the interviewees. One quote from E.M., abbreviated to protect the immigrant’s identity, read as such, “My mom kept that sweater kind like, this is my baby. This is how my baby was when I brought here.” E.M. also notes that she crossed the border while wearing that sweater. E.M.’s own story brought her to the US in 2001. She, her younger brother, and mother immigrated after learning that her father had an accident at a construction job. Currently E.M. works at a immigration law firm as a paralegal.
On the other side of the table at the box of chocolate we see D.O.’s story. Migrating in 2002, at age 19. She was had come to the US in search of a better job to support her family, and was forced to abandon her mother and 3-year old child because of this. Today D.O, works for a local non-profit organization that specializes in aiding immigrants. She also currently resides with her husband and three children. “I remember buying a big box of chocolate that I hid under my belongings,” said D.O.. She had shared this chocolate with everyone in her group for the border crossing.
The main part of the exhibit was in the center of the room on the yellow platform. There were shoes, vitamin bottles, backpacks, underwear, gum packets, and a couple of small Bibles. Each object had it’s own general meaning and backstory. Some items showed signs of routine. Things like a razor or a tube of lipstick showed that some still tried to maintain an orderly appearance during the crossing. A Bible or religious token was meant as a charm for a safe journey. Other objects had a more somber note. Children’s shoes and toys generally meant an unaccompanied child was making the journey. Several bras were also strewn across the platform, which more than often a discarded bra was a sign of rape.
This exhibit refers to itself as an anti-archive because it recognizes that behind every number that is reported about the U.S.-Mexican border is a human being. It toys around with the the idea of an archive. Instead of holding pristine and culturally significant materials, it rather explores the stories that can be told from ravaged items that can be found in everyday situations. It also recognizes that these mundane items take on a new meaning when crossing the border. A toothbrush or a pen can be used as a self-defense weapon, which is why they are often confiscated by border patrol.
Anti-art can trace its origins back to the Dada movement. This movement spawned out of the European avant-garde movement in the early 1900’s. Marcel Duchamp experimented with “readymades”, which were found objects that typically with no artistic function. Duchamp would modify these pieces by these giving them artistic poses. An example of this is his 1917 work “Fountain”, which consists of a urinal positioned on a pedestal.
Much anti-art holds contradictory elements. It can be viewed as satirical, and almost comedic in certain forms. Some forms chose to reject standards of what defines “art”, where as some forgo the idea art is a separate realm from the everyday. The “universality” of anti-art lies in it’s ability to ignore individualism and present a somewhat thrown together aesthetic. The beauty of it is that it can reject any medium or style that it wants, and that it continues to exist outside of many artistic movements.
Page’s work offers an interesting view of immigration. It turns objects that as an audience most would find unremarkable into a story of new beginnings. Seeing the scattered items really gives and learning each origin definitely reminds one of how disparaged some people are, and how privileged others can be. The Objects from the Borderlands exhibit runs at the Greensboro Project Space until October 1, and is worth the experience.