I used to be the kind of person that went to art galleries and didn’t read the captions. Who cared, right? If it looked good I liked it, and if it didn’t catch my attention then I didn’t care where the artist was born or what their statement of purpose was.
Fortunately I’ve grown up and realized there’s a whole lot that can be missed if you don’t read the artist statements. Without reading the description, Pedro Lasch’s series Latino/a America just looked like variations on the same red map of North and South America. It caught my eye as I walked through the Zones of Contention: The US/Mexico Border exhibit at the Weatherspoon Art Gallery, but I moved on to others pieces.
After walking through the second room of the exhibit I came back to check out a few of my favorite pieces, including Lasch’s, more closely while Aimee snapped a few more photos. Along with learning that he lives in Durham and was born in Mexico City, I found out that Lasch had given the maps — which were pre-folded into much smaller squares so they could be transported — to people who were crossing the US- Mexico border. Once the border crossers made it to their destinations, they returned the maps to Lasch in various states of disrepair, caked in dirt, with pieces missing and coffee stains.
One piece in the exhibit was actually more confusing after reading about it. Red clouds rise like coursing veins in Rafael Lozano Hemmer’s piece on the Tijuana/San Diego border, which uses 110,000 LEDs shining through a map of the border. The description said the map had “a vector of economic disparity and heavy migratory traffic” and that the plumes of smoke were proportionally based “on an internet search for the words “Tijuana San Diego.” Impressive, but I am definitely missing something.
Other times, the name says it all. “Child Citizens (with undocumented parent)” is a photo of two young girls, one just barely smiling while the other betrays no emotion. Greensboro-based artist Todd Drake’s shot symbolically leaves the undocumented parent’s face in the shadows with only their arms visible, embracing their daughters.
The artists in the exhibit hail from all over, like Lozano Hemmer who splits his time between Montreal and Madrid or Nicolas Lampert and Dan S. Wang from Milwaukee and Madison, Wis., respectively, who collaborated on a broadside poster on plywood called “Caution!! Migrant Workers of Arizona, One and All.” The duo based the design on the 1851 broadside “Caution!! Colored People of Boston “about the Fugitive Slave Act. Like Drake and Lasch, a number of the artists live in North Carolina, such as Susan Harbage Page of Chapel Hill.
Page photographed items migrants left along the Rio Grande River between Matamoros, Mex. and Brownsville, Tex. including a wallet and ID and a deflated inner tube. The items were also displayed, crumpled up on a platform a few inches off the floor in front of the large pictures.
There are all sorts of interesting things going on in the exhibit — videos of guns being steamrolled and made into shovels in an antiviolence program, the Keep On Crossin’ Manifesto and several excellent photos of the border and the people who patrol it.
Yet my favorite piece of all is a realistic depiction of the two ends of the US/Mexico border. The sculptures jet out into the room, narrowing as they extend from the wall until the oceans pour off the tips. On the Pacific side, the multi-billion-dollar border fence runs right into the ocean, while the border is clearly defined but demilitarized on the Gulf Coast side. Brooklyn-based Blane De St. Croix went on a 2,400-mile research trip and conducted extensive site visits before crafting “Two Ends” in 2011.
Zones of Contention is on display until Sept. 2. On Aug. 23 the museum hosts a screening and discussion of The Guestworker, and an exhibition tour and lecture by Paul Cuadros a week later. 500 Tate St.; 336.334.5770; weatherspoon.uncg.edu