Things That Matter

An Artist Set Up An Installation At The US-Mexico Border Allowing People To Communicate Freely

The President of the United States is still working on building the great big wall to divide Mexico from the U.S. Even though the wall has yet to be completed (and it looks like it never will actually be totally completed), the issue of the wall itself has already divided so many. The division is not just physical, but emotional, and, of course political. Believe it or not, there has been so much positivity that has also come with our painful division. Not only are people rising up to demand the rights of immigrants, and fighting for asylum seekers, but there’s also incredible art that has been erected in the name of justice

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer is a Mexican-Canadian installation artist that has created a way for people to talk to each other on opposite sides of the border.

Lozano-Hemmer has built a massive light installation — both on U.S. land and Mexico land. The project, while complicated, appears to be several spotlights that project to one side of the border and then intersects with the spotlights from the other side. There are, as the website states, “three interactive stations on each side of the border will control powerful searchlight beams using a small dial wheel. When lights from any two stations are directed at each other, microphones and speakers automatically switch-on to allow participants to talk with one another, creating cross-border conversations.”

When one person speaks into the microphone, the person on the other side can hear and talk to them as well. People in El Paso, Texas, were able to communicate with those in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua.

On opening night, which happened on Nov. 13, a slew of special guests was invited to speak to people on the other side of the border. It wasn’t a natural result either. As the website states, “These conversations have been curated through a series of public meetings over the course of the past year and include a diverse cross-section of participants. Community leaders selected to coordinate various topics have committed to reaching out to their existing networks on both sides of the border for these topic-specific conversations in addition to the spontaneous conversations generated by the general public each night.”

While the light installation was only up for a few days and is now over, the result is one of the most magical things we have ever seen. 

In one clip, we see a woman speaking to a little boy. She asks him his name and how old he is, how he likes school, etc. It’s so hard to believe that the two people speaking are actually miles away from each other, with only a border that separates them. Their voices sound so loud and clear as if they were talking to each other face to face. 

“I’m not creating bridges of communication. Those bridges are already existing,” Lozano-Hemmer said in an interview, according to CBC News. “I’m just highlighting that they exist.” He added, “The computer modulates the bridge so that you can see that there is this kind of tangible aspect to our conversation that is very visible.” In the video above, former presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke also took part in the installation and spoke to kids in Mexico.

Everyone obviously couldn’t experience this lovely installation in person, however, people on social media have been very moved by it.

One woman on Instagram said, “this made me sob, which is hard when you’ve had your breath taken away moments before. This is what art was created for, telling complex stories in a visually stunning manner, to help people understand. I believe in giving away our skills/free education. Imagine how stunning it would be to see the whole globe illuminated with Lights of Hope along every “border.” It’s possible. Give your blessing or blueprints to artist revolutionaries online, and let’s see how long it takes to light this rock up. #nobordersnonations #artisrevolution #makeartnotwar.” Another said, “Bless you. Bless your work. Bless your collaborative partners. I hope the children in our shameful American Detainment Camps for CHILDREN (those nearby) can see your Light. I pray that People crossing the border in the dark of the night see your Lights and it leads them Home. I Hope it soothes their souls and lets them know we have not forgotten them. America is and always will be a respite for the weary and down-trodden. We welcome ALL with open arms as WE would want to be welcomed in our most needy of times. I don’t care what negative people say, I believe in Hope, Righteousness, and the inherent Good in Everyone.”

READ: Kids On Both Sides Of The Border Wall Now Have Something Small To Smile About Thanks To An Artist Who Installed Seesaws

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Another International Brand Has Been Accused Of Copying Indigenous Mexican Designs

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Another International Brand Has Been Accused Of Copying Indigenous Mexican Designs

DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images

Although it comes as no surprise, it’s still as frustrating as ever that an international fashion brand has ripped off traditional designs of Indigenous cultures. This time, it’s an Australian label that appears to have copied the designs of Mexico’s Mazatec community.

Although the company has already pulled the allegedly copied dress, the damage appears to have been done as many are rightfully outraged at their blatant plagiarism.

Australia’s Zimmermann brand has been accused of copying designs from Mexico’s Indigenous community.

Mazatec people from the Mexican state of Oaxaca have expressed their outrage over yet another attack on their traditions. They claim that an Australian company – Zimmermann – has copied a Mazatec huipil design to make its own tunic dress. The dress, which was part of the company’s 2021 Resort collection and retailed for USD $850, has since been pulled from the company’s website due to the criticism.

Zimmermann is an Australian fashion house that has stores across the U.S., England, France, and Italy. While the huipil is a loose-fitting tunic commonly worn by both Indigenous and non-Indigenous women across Mexico.

It’s hard to argue that the brand didn’t deliberately copy the Oaxacan design.

Credit: Francoise CAVAZZANA/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

When you look at the Zimmermann tunic dress alongside a traditional huipil, it’s hard not to see the resemblance. The cut of the Zimmermann dress, the birds and flowers embroidered on it and its colors all resemble a traditional Mazatec huipil. 

Changes made to the original design – the Zimmermann dress sits above the knees and unlike a huipil is not intended to be worn with pants or a skirt – are disrespectful of the Mazatac culture and world view.

The Oaxaca Institute of Crafts also condemned Zimmermann and called on the brand to clarify the origin of its design.

For their part, Zimmermann has pulled the dress and issued an apology.

Zimmermann subsequently issued a statement on social media, acknowledging that the tunic dress was inspired by huipiles from Oaxaca

“Zimmermann acknowledges that the paneled tunic dress from our current Swim collection was inspired by what we now understand to be a traditional garment from the Oaxaca region in Mexico,” it said.

“We apologize for the usage without appropriate credit to the cultural owners of this form of dress and for the offense this has caused. Although the error was unintentional, when it was brought to our attention today, the item was immediately withdrawn from all Zimmermann stores and our website. We have taken steps to ensure this does not happen again in future.”

However, it’s far from the first time that an international brand has profited off of Indigenous designs.

Unfortunately, international fashion companies ripping off traditional garments and designs – especially those of Indigenous cultures – is far too common. Several major companies have been accused of plagiarism within the last year.

In fact, the problem has become so widespread that Mexico created a government task force to help find and denounce similar plagiarism in the future. Among the other designers/brands that have been denounced for the practice are Isabel Marant, Carolina Herrera, Mango and Pippa Holt.

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The Pink Seesaws Along The U.S.-Mexico Border Won Design of the Year For 2020

Things That Matter

The Pink Seesaws Along The U.S.-Mexico Border Won Design of the Year For 2020

LUIS TORRES/AFP via Getty Images

For many years now, when you think of the U.S.-Mexico border, you think of the families torn apart by cruel and inhumane immigration policies and of kids and families being thrown into cages.

One artist tried to highlight the cruelty happening at the border, while also providing local children with a happy distraction, through an art installation at the border zone between El Paso, TX and Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua.

Now, that art installation is gaining international recognition for its aim to bring together a physically divided community.

Pink seesaws installed along the U.S.-Mexico border have won a prestigious design award.

The collection of bright pink seesaws placed along the border wall between a section of El Paso and Ciudad Juárez is being recognized for its importance. The art installation/children’s playground that allowed people to interact through the border wall has won the prestigious Design of the Year award, with its creators saying they hoped the work encourages people to build bridges between communities.

The Teeter Totter Wall, which bridged across El Paso in Texas and Ciudad Juárez in Chihuahua during a 40-minute session, was described as not only feeling “symbolically important” but also highlighting “the possibility of things” by the judging panel.

Original story published July, 25, 2019:

Lately, when you think of the U.S-Mexico border, you think of the children being kept in cages, of migrant folks being kept in unthinkable conditions in detention prisons, and you think of the possible construction of Donald Trump’s beloved wall–among other negative connotations that the border brings. Then there are times when heartwarming images and scenes from the border show that despite the weaponization of the border, we’re still connected to one another in many ways. 

Architect and artist Ronald Rael designed and installed pink seesaws at the border for children from the United States and Mexico to play together.

The art installation, “Teeter-Totter Wall,” was created by Rael, an architecture professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and Virginia San Fratello, an associate professor of design at San Jose State University.

The custom-built seesaws were placed on both sides of the steel border fence that separates the U.S. and Mexico. The artist called it “one of the most incredible experiences of his career” in a post he shared on Instagram. 

About a decade ago, both Rael and San Fratello had designed the concept for the seesaw at the border for a book titled “Borderwall as Architecture.” Now, the drawings became a reality. 

Despite the negative headlines that dominate the news cycle every day, it’s refreshing to see artists like Ronald Rael use their platform and creativity to spark positivity and strengthen our sense of community. 

“The wall became a literal fulcrum for U.S.-Mexico relations and children and adults were connected in meaningful ways on both sides with the recognition that the actions that take place on one side have a direct consequence on the other side,” Rael wrote in his Instagram caption. Rael also gave a shoutout to the team who helped make this powerful art installation a reality in Cuidad Juárez, Mexico.

CNN also points out that the New Mexico town is also where a militia detained migrants in April (the ACLU called it a kidnapping), and where a private group began building its own border wall with the use of millions donated to a GoFundMe campaign. 

Last week, the Supreme Court also gave Trump a victory in his fight for the construction of a wall along the border. Further, the Supreme Court allowed the administration to use $2.5 billion in military funds for it. 

Despite all of the negative news surrounding the border, it was a different scene there on Monday near the Sunland Park stretch. Instead, it showed a heartwarming and lighter scene compared to what we’ve recently seen.

The art installation that this artist created is also meant to serve as a reminder. A reminder that “we are connected” and “what happens on one side impacts the other.”

The pink seesaws showed people from both sides of the border coming together in a unifying act. Children and adults alike on U.S soil were recorded playing with children from the other side. These light-hearted scenes from the border make one for if only a second forget the actual reality of it all. 

RAICES, a non-profit focusing on immigration legal services in Texas, shared on Twitter that “Art is such a powerful vehicle for change”

In the past, other scenes of art installations at the border have made rounds. For example, The Guardian notes the time when an architectural practice in Mexico designed a pink interpretation of Trump’s border wall. 

Claudia Tristán, the Director of Latinx Messaging for 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke also praised the art installation for the message it spread. 

“The symbolism of the seesaw is just magical,” she wrote in a tweet. “A #Border fence will not keep us from our neighbors.”

The video of architect and artist Ronald Rael that’s also making rounds on social media shows him saying that the seesaw that there are still “good relations the people of Mexico and the United States.” Therefore, the seesaw can portray that we are “equal” and the wall, he says, cuts those relationships between us. 

Ultimately, it is important to remember that with or without the U.S.-Mexico border, much of this land belonged to and will always belong to Native Americans.

We need to remember that the homelands of tribes including the Kumeyaay, Pai, Cocopah, O’odham, Yaqui, Apache and Kickapoo peoples were all split into two by the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the 1853 Gadsen Purchase–which is what makes up modern-day California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas

So while it is important to highlight the positive and humanizing images on the U.S.-Mexico border when we can, we should also be mindful of the indigenous communities to which this land belongs to. 

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