Tags for: Picturing the Border
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Picturing the Border

Contemporary photography from the US–Mexico borderlands
Nadiah Rivera Fellah, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art
June 1, 2024
four women and baby standing in front of mural

Cholos, White Fence, East Los Angeles, 1986. Graciela Iturbide (Mexican, b. 1942). Gelatin silver print; 35.2 x 27.7 cm. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Leslie and Judith Schreyer and Gabri Schreyer-Hoffman in honor of Virginia Heckert, 2017.41. © Graciela Iturbide

Photojournalism from the US–Mexico border currently emphasizes stark, divisive images: walls, fences, surveillance devices, border patrols, “coyotes,” and crossing migrants. Yet some of the most compelling artwork dealing with this region attests to several generations of cross-border familial relationships, personal identities that carry markers of both countries, and hybrid cultures that meld influences from the United States, Mexico, and farther south in Latin America. This more complex work demonstrates how border residents have resisted being defined by the border and its conflicts, concentrating instead on a deterritorialized notion of home, along with a sense of self that often transcends both nationalism and gender politics. 

The photographs and video works included in Picturing the Border offer a more nuanced portrayal of life in the borderlands. The exhibition positions the US–Mexico border as a cultural framework and highlights how Latinx photographers—many of whom are border residents themselves—have instead formulated alternative photographic vocabularies with regard to place, identity, and race. Photographs range in subject matter from intimate domestic portraits, extended family gatherings, and political demonstrations to images of border crossings and clashes between migrants and the US border patrol. The earliest images in this exhibition form an origin story for the topicality of the US–Mexico border at the present moment and demonstrate that the issues of the border have been a critical point of inquiry for artists since the 1970s.

A black and white photo of a wood desk, in front of open blinds, covered with keepsakes, in a mirro offset to the left is a reflection of a woman with long dark hair
Yrenia Cervantes, 1990. Laura Aguilar (American, 1959-2018). Gelatin silver print; 27.9 x 35.6 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Karl B. Goldfield Trust, 2023.10. © The Laura Aguilar Trust

The exhibition is accompanied by an important scholarly publication that brings new insights to the subject of Latinx photography and the history of the US–Mexico border. Picturing the Border has also brought about the opportunity to grow our permanent collection in this area, precipitating recent acquisitions by Laura Aguilar and the donation of an important work by Ada Trillo, who has witnessed firsthand the perils of the unbelievably extensive journey migrants have taken from Central America to the United States.

Although Cleveland is far from the southern border, stories of global migration are woven throughout the CMA’s encyclopedic collection as well as throughout the community in Northeast Ohio. Picturing the Border puts faces on stories and brings to life the various threads that stitch together an ever-growing understanding of, and empathy for, the migrant experience.