ALBUQUERQUE — Borders function as instruments of state control, restricting access and movement. The deceptive simplicity of these man-made boundaries — physical and social alike — obscures the complexities they establish within, outside, between, and across their confines. Curated by self-described “fronteristx” Pico del Hierro-Villa, the new exhibition and e-zine BorderPlex documents regional artists’ experiences of the United States-Mexico border.
BorderPlex, which runs through early September at artist-run gallery Alpaca in Albuquerque’s Barelas neighborhood, pays titular homage to the ways growing up in both Ciudad Juárez and El Paso shaped Hierro-Villa’s political consciousness and artistic motives. The first issue, “Digitizing the Coatlicue State,” features digital photographs and narratives by BIPOC, queer, and trans artists living in the Borderlands, challenging social borders that manifest within these communities as machismo, state violence, gender roles, homophobia, and organized religion. A micro-grant from the City of Albuquerque’s Urban Enhancement Trust Fund helped pay for the first phase of the ongoing BorderPlex project.
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Ahead of the project’s noisy, joyful opening on Friday, August 11, Hierro-Villa told Hyperallergic that the concept for the zine and show revealed itself through a series of academic and artistic occurrences, including their graduate studies in Chicana and Chicano Studies at the University of New Mexico (UNM). That practice deepened their relationship with theory, including Chicana feminist Gloria Anzaldúa and her Coatlicue state and mestiza consciousness frameworks.
“Anzaldúa utilizes the Coatlicue state, a decolonizing perspective, and mestiza consciousness to talk about how Chicanas can reclaim their stories and take an oppositional stance against colonial hegemonic narratives,” said Hierro-Villa. “In this third space, we open our eyes to the ways colonialism has ingrained these dominant narratives within us. We reclaim them by writing and telling our own stories.”
Hierro-Villa said they found further inspiration at the inaugural Latinx Visions: Speculative Worlds in Latinx Art, Literature, and Performance conference, hosted at UNM this past March. That was where Hierro-Villa first met Angel Cabrales and his partner Bianca Camarillo. It’s also where they first discovered Cabrales’s art and Camarillo’s curation of the satellite exhibition Milenio: Chicanismos of Tomorrow. Hierro-Villa collaborated with UNM grad student Ruben Loza to create BorderPlex’s bold visual aesthetic — described as “what Mesoamerican design might look like if it was in the future” — and the project’s digital and physical graphics.
Exhibiting artist Blanca Bañuelos-Hernandez was motivated to submit to BorderPlex to represent the experience of millions of undocumented people living in the US and to give voice to the trauma of the inability to cross borders without fear of deportation. She told Hyperallergic that it is crucial to acknowledge Anzaldúa’s perspective as a woman with access to citizenship and the ability to traverse borders.
“I’m from Ciudad and it feels important for me to show up in spaces where there’s a conversation going on about the border — the opposite side. I’ve been in a lot of spaces where things are being told exclusively from the perspective of living on the US side of the border,” said Bañuelos-Hernandez. “It’s not often told from other perspectives, like living in Mexico or living the consequences of a US border created through imperialism and globalization.”
During the interview, Bañuelos-Hernandez described recently being able to return to Mexico for the first time in 18 years without fearing deportation. She said going home to Ciudad Juárez evoked feelings of not wanting to return to the US alongside the recognition that staying in Mexico would risk her hard-won residency. For undocumented people, the realities of border enforcement and nationalist politics adds more traumatic layers to the dual consciousness experienced by documented persons like Anzaldúa.
According to artist Jay Renteria, border issues were front of mind for him because of personal reflection and his recent participation in the collective organization of Dust Wave’s Fronteras Micro Film Festival. That event screened 20 short films by local and international filmmakers that address themes of borders, enforcement, and crossings.
“Fronteras had submissions from all over the world. I’ve been trying to learn and understand more about some of the reasons why people oppose open borders,” said Renteria. “I think people are getting more comfortable talking about borders or challenging false, stereotypical [immigration] narratives and more accepting of hearing different sides of the story.”
Artist Christopher Rivera, better known as Bicho and born and based in Brooklyn, submitted work created along the US-Mexico border. Rivera’s larger body of work documents the Puerto Rican diasporic experience, especially cultural expression and political diversity, and includes themes of placemaking, identity, and resilience. Rivera lived in Albuquerque while earning a Master’s degree in Community and Regional Planning at UNM, and he said his time in the city radicalized him. After some disheartening political lobbying work, Rivera got involved in community organizing focused on immigration and housing issues. His BorderPlex contribution highlights his time living in Albuquerque and those ongoing interests by witnessing the protest of US immigration detention policies by Hierro-Villa and others at the border in Santa Teresa, New Mexico.
United by overarching themes and digital format, the photographic works featured in BorderPlex display a range of styles, subjects, and techniques. Portraiture contributed by Sofie Hecht and Louisa Mackenzie; Jimmy Himes-Ryann; Jessamyn Lovell; and Alicia Robinson-Welsh ranges from relatively candid to highly stylized. Renteria experimented with neon lighting and long exposure, carving a luminous border beneath Santa Elena Canyon’s notoriously dark sky. Hierro-Villa and Rivera’s included work melds a naturalistic, emotive lens with journalistic realism, capturing resistance on both sides of the border. Billie Class’s self-portraiture tempers critical reflexivity with humor and Pop Art aesthetics. Bañuelos-Hernandez’s mixed-media work contrasts the bleakness of border physicality with the native beauty of the maguey. Likewise, Ruben Loza’s piece overwrites the border, transforming it “poco a poco” — little by little.
BorderPlex will provide public access to the e-zine, announce gallery hours, schedule viewing appointments, and release future calls for submissions via its Instagram profile.