Borderland Collective’s “One to Another” at Artpace attempts to tone down the rancorous rhetoric about migration and immigration by providing both broader and more personal perspectives. Though focused on individual migration stories, the multimedia exhibit also pulls together United Nations hearings, statistics, forensic archives, video and sound installations for a thoughtful consideration of the causes of our current crisis.
With more than a quarter billion refugees and migrants on the move around the globe fleeing war, oppression, broken economies, famine, climate change and criminal violence, migration and immigration have become the defining political issues of our time, sparking a sharp turn to the right and a revival of nationalism.
But “One to Another” reminds us that just about everyone in this country has some kind of immigrant story in their family history. While the political debate is used to outrage, the Borderland Collective’s approach is more about compassion and understanding.
Now based at Texas State University in San Marcos, the Borderland Collective is a long-term art and education project led by artists Mark Menjivar, Molly Sherman and Jason Reed. Reed and public-school teacher Ryan Sprott formed the collective in 2007 in the small oil town of Big Lake. Involving hundreds of participants, the collective has examined migration in various ways, but the heart of the project is an oral history called Migration Stories.
So far, the collective has published six collections of stories, with copies available for reading in the Main Gallery at Artpace, gathered in six cities around the country where the project has taken place. During the run of “One to Another,” Menjivar is working with Artpace’s Teen Council to interview family and community members about their migrant stories, which will culminate with a book release and listening party on December 13.
Upstairs in the Hudson Showroom is a modular temporary shelter built by Better Shelter, a Swedish social enterprise organization, in collaboration with the IKEA Foundation and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. A little larger than a garden shed and probably not much more comfortable, the shelter is designed to be flat-packed and easy to assemble with a galvanized steel frame and semi-hard walls. Better Shelter has shipped the temporary structures to more than 20 countries since 2015, providing housing for more than 20,000 refugee families.
Inside the shelter, a projection is showing the October 2017 special session of the UN General Assembly on the “Unlawful Death of Refugees and Migrants.” Filippo Grandi, UNHCR high commissioner, has blamed the sharp increase in forced migration on an escalation of violence and proxy wars that have replaced diplomacy. However, the abstract arguments of the politicians are in sharp contrast with the stark, barren, physical reality of the refugee shelter.
A Global Migration Timeline reveals both Democratic and Republican administrations in the United States have been toughening border policies since the mid-1990s when President Clinton urged “prevention through deterrence.” Building better fences in urban areas forced migrants into isolated rural zones, where thousands have died in harsh, desert conditions. You can listen to the sounds of bird calls and rippling water on the Rio Grande while studying a map showing the location of unmarked migrant graves.
Since 2005 more than 1,000 border crossers have died in the Rio Grande Valley, although Brooks County Sheriff Benny Martinez estimates the actual death total surpasses 5,000. Texas State’s Forensic Anthropology Department has been working for years on Operation Identification, which uses forensic, anthropological and geophysical methods to uncover unidentified remains and make positive identifications. A panel discussion, “Counter Forensics: Working to Identify the Unidentified in South Texas,” will examine the project on September 27 at Artpace.
A blue handout shows the location of unknown remains in mass graves in the Sacred Heart Cemetery in Brooks County, which were found by Operation Identification using Ground Penetrating Radar. A video shows the forensic anthropologists at work digging up remains. Another handout shows a card found on the body of a deceased migrant for Santo Toribio Romo, patron saint of migrants, with a prayer that pleas in part, “care for and protect our relatives who have had to leave the house and go to distant lands.”
Borderland Collective: ‘One to Another’
Free, 10am-5pm Mon-Fri, noon-5pm Sat-Sun through Dec. 30, Artpace, 445 N. Main Ave., (210) 212-4900, artpace.org
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