Magenta flowers with yellow centers. Wendy M., a freshman film production major, grew up watching her mother cross stitch designs of colorful fruits and floral patterns on to decorative kitchen towels. Walking into the La Frontera – The Border: Art Across the Border Sept. 4, Wendy was attracted to artist Natalie Anciso’s “Trespassers (Smile Series),” which consisted of eight handkerchiefs stretched on embroidery loops, each decorated with watercolor designs of colored blossoms. She was immediately taken back to her childhood and watching her mother work.
“Embroidery is really important in Mexican culture. It’s on a lot of shirts and folkloric dresses,” Wendy said. “Being able to learn embroidery from my mother allowed me to be more in touch with my Mexican-American heritage.”
Wendy decided to attend the kickoff gallery opening of La Frontera – an exhibition of artwork created to discuss the social, economic and environmental impacts of borders – after she saw a poster on a campus promoting the series. She was eager to see her Mexican-American culture represented on campus.
“It was hard attending a school outside of my Latino-based community,” Wendy said. “On campus, I thought, ‘I don’t see anyone that looks like or represents me.’ When I saw the flyer for La Frontera, it ignited this joy in me. It was something I could attend that allowed me to feel a part of something greater.”
Wendy grew up two hours from the California-Mexico border; her parents are undocumented immigrants.
“My father came to the United States looking for a better life. He maintained a long-distance relationship with my mother and eventually brought her to the United States to have me, wanting to give me more opportunities than they had,” Wendy – a first generation college student – said. “It’s scary for my parents living in the United States. We have had the hard talks about what were to happen if I lose them.”
The gallery opening began with a speech from Jennifer Keene, dean of Wilkinson College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, who discussed how the semester-long event series will further the mission of Wilkinson College.
When freshman Molly Steavpack saw Ingrid Levya’s “Mexican Shoppers” – an ongoing project that features Mexican shoppers on their way back to Mexico after grocery shopping in the United States – she began to tear up.
“All of these photographs tell a story,” Steavpack said. “This exhibit will allow people to get educated, develop more compassion and gain greater perspective about other cultures.”
The artwork was monitored by Public Safety, with an officer present at the gallery doors. Visual and contemporary artist Omar Pimienta’s piece “Mobile Consulate” – which consisted of an office table and chairs– mimicking a passport agency. Visitors were invited to take part in “Libre Mobile Consulate,” a performance by Pimienta that allowed participants to give their voided passports to the Libre Citizen Archive. Pimienta encouraged viewers to take part in the artwork to “become part of a post-nation that believes that migration can itself be a form of citizenship.”
Pimienta’s piece is one example of how to “turn a negative into a positive,” said Marcus Herse, a professor in the Department of Art and gallery coordinator.
“We hope the series of events will generate discussion, as (immigration) is such a contested and fiercely discussed topic,” Herse said. “With new information pouring in everyday about events at the border, I hope the exhibit can be a part in facilitating the conversation about it.”