The U.S.-Mexico border is a deeply political space, with hundreds of thousands of people crossing the border daily. Artists have long used it as the canvas for their artwork, filling the rusted fencing with murals and creating site-specific pieces to disrupt its power over people’s lives.
As President Trump attacks immigration and doubles down on his plans for an extended border wall, artists are looking to the border, even more, to fight back.
CREDIT: Photo credit: Gina Clyne
Last August, L.A.-based artist Tanya Aguíñiga kicked off the AMBOS project, where she and other San Diego and Tijuana artists took over the marketplace in the center of the Tijuana/San Ysidro border crossing and created a week-long series of art interventions that included film screenings, a sound installation and the creation of a quipu, an ancient Incan communication device made up of color knots.
For the second installation of the AMBOS project, which is currently underway with the second leg planned for next year, Aguíñiga and her team are traveling to every border crossing along the southern United States, between Tijuana-San Diego and Ciudad Juarez-El Paso. They’re collaborating with local artists from both sides of the border at each crossing to create visual and performance art installations. They’re also bringing the quipu they started last year and adding to it, using it to document the daily migration of people on the border.
To build on El Quipu Fronterizo, Aguíñiga and her team give participants two strands of thread and ask them to tie them into a knot.
“The strands represent the U.S. and Mexico’s relationship to one another, our self at either side of the border, and our own mental state at the point of crossing,” says Aguiñiga.
Everyone at the border only had the best things to say about Spiderman, this lovely gentleman who would scale the billboards above the market and helped put up the Border Quipu project every morning after the knots from the previous day were joined together. 📷: @ginaclyne #AMBOSProject #CommunityArt #USMexicoBorder #CrossingBorders #BorderQuipu #Tijuana #MercadodeArtesanias
The knots collected will all be tied together and added to the quipu, creating a visual representation of the thousands who cross the border each day. The quipu will later be part of an exhibition at the Museum of Art and Design in New York City that focuses on AMBOS. Through this quipu, postcards participants write about their border-crossing experience and photography and film taken throughout the trip. AMBOS will document the border as it currently stands and the experiences of people who live with it every day. That’s especially important as the space will likely transform if Trump makes his border wall expansion a reality.
Aguíñiga, who grew up commuting across the San Diego-Tijuana border, says the project as a whole will “give voice to our experience as people that are from the border, commute on the border and really do see ourselves as a part of a larger, trans-national community. Our experiences are very different from those experiences of people in Mexico and people in the U.S.”
“That’s the thing that the border, and even after being a certain distance away from the border,” she adds. “People don’t know anything about what it’s like to live next to the border, and what it’s like to live constantly going back and forth between two countries.”
CREDIT: Photo credit: Gina Clyne
Aguíñiga will also travel to parts of the border that don’t have a fence built yet to bring installation and performance art to “spaces that are yet undivided between us.” She’s also happy to share the experiences of people who have different histories and interactions with the border. Those who share their stories via the postcards are different ages, cross fro different reasons and view it in different ways, sharing how the wall has impacted their identity.
By humanizing the border crossing experience, Aguíñiga believes we can create positive change.
“Just by us making our experiences more visual, by recording them, by constantly sharing them with others, then people have a human story or face to put to it,” she says. “It’s more difficult for them to fear or not want to help make your situation better.”
To learn more about the AMBOS project, follow along on their journey and find out where they’re going next, visit ambosproject.com or follow them on Instagram.
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