|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|The following text is excerpted from the "Art and Leisure" section of The New York Times, January 5, 2014, p. 14.|
"A Vale of Terror, Transcended-Artists Explore Life along the United States-Mexico Border" by Laura Tillman
MATAMOROS, Mexico — The artist Patricia Ruiz-Bayón recently met with three migrants in a shelter in this ravaged border city and invited them to take part in one of her performance works. The piece, 70+2..., commemorated an act of extreme brutality that continues to traumatize the region: a 2010 massacre of 72 migrants in nearby San Fernando that the Mexican authorities say was carried out by the Zetas criminal gang.
Like the slain migrants, who were pulled from buses and shot, Ms. Ruiz-Bayón’s art volunteers were on a treacherous journey north toward the United States. On the day of the performance, barefoot and dressed in white, the participants, two men and a woman, walked slowly through soil that Ms. Ruiz-Bayón had transported from a San Fernando cornfield, evoking a mass grave but also hope and renewal. Then they walked along an infinity symbol that had been carved into the dirt, signifying the eternal path of migration.
The performance was the first in a series called Todos Somos Victimas y Culpables, We Are All Victims and Culpable, a deeply serious message in a part of Mexico that continues to be rattled by clashes between rival gangs and the police.
Ms. Ruiz-Bayón’s work is part of a growing art movement in the Rio Grande Valley exploring immigration politics and a rise in drug violence in the region over the past four years. Although the artists’ circumstances and their audiences vary, depending on where they live, they see themselves as part of a transnational community that is artificially divided.
The 18-foot-high border fence, ever-present in the artists’ work, is a ready symbol for the dissonance between the local understanding of the region as a unified one with strong cultural and economic ties, and policy prescriptions from Washington aimed at controlling the area and dividing it into discrete parts. As a new immigration bill presents the likelihood of new fencing and increased surveillance, the artists are determined to highlight the discord and societal hierarchy that the fence represents to many here. In their work, they also conjure an alternative situation.
Ms. Ruiz-Bayón’s work, which extends beyond performance to sculpture and mixed media, also relies on metaphor to talk about migration, gender and violence.
In 2010, the same year as the massacre in San Fernando, a wave of gang violence pushed into Matamoros. Traumatized, Ms. Ruiz-Bayón said, she could not bring herself to make any artwork for an entire year.
In 70+2..., she sought catharsis. “I’m so sick of guns, I’m so sick of blood,“ she said. “I wanted to make something that would make people think deeper and ask: ‘O.K., this is happening to me. How can I feel a little relief?’ ”
She visited San Fernando and tracked down on the Internet videos of the family members of the murdered migrants and a survivor. She spent time with migrants from Honduras and Guatemala, who also participated in her piece, and learned about the poverty they fled, the families they left behind and their journeys north.
“I had urgency to heal myself,” Ms. Ruiz-Bayón said. “And hopefully, in the process, it was a healing piece for the people.”
The prospect of performing in Matamoros last August initially made her anxious. Few murders are solved there, and she was concerned about the safety of the volunteers in the work. But the pieces finally fell into place, and she scheduled the performance at a secure private building, her concerns allayed. “I thought, if the migrants are brave enough to take this long, long, dangerous journey, why shouldn’t I?” she said.
The victims of the 2010 massacre have also been memorialized by journalists and novelists who created a website, 72migrantes.com, with profiles and photographs evoking each of the dead.
George Flaherty, an assistant professor of art history at the University of Texas at Austin who specializes in Latin American art, said terror is a major theme for artists who set out to document scores of anonymous deaths. “It’s about creating alternative archives and alternate ways of recognizing that which has been forgotten or willfully ignored,” he said.
The art is also about rectifying the way the border region is perceived from afar. The photographer Stefan Falke has been documenting artists in the region since 2008 in an project titled “La Frontera: Artists Along the U.S.-Mexico Border.” Having grown up in a divided Germany, Mr. Falke said, he was suspicious about the mainstream portrayal of the border area as a dangerous place without much to offer. He said he wanted to convey that the border is not a space of absence, but one of creativity and life.
To that end, he has photographed 180 artists from Brownsville to Tijuana. An exhibition of works from “La Frontera” is to open at the International Museum of Art and Science in McAllen on Jan. 23.
“You hear about tens of thousands of killings, and it’s natural to think, ‘Why would people want to live there?’ ” he said. “Then you go there, and you find everyone you meet doesn’t want to leave. They just love their city.”
Ms. Ruiz-Bayón, who has lived and worked in both the United States and Mexico, declined to identify her birthplace, saying she does not believe she belongs to one country or the other. “For me, the border is like a parentheses that is neither Mexico nor the United States,” she said. “It’s a place of its own.”
While such sentiments are common along the border, they are a striking counterpoint to discussions of immigration reform in Congress that take the necessity of enforced border security and hundreds of miles of hard fencing for granted.
|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
MFA, School of Art and Design, Installation and Sculpture, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
MS Art, Texas A&M University-Kingsville, Kingsville, TX
Postgraduate Contemporary Fiber, State University of Art, Studio of Magdalena Abakanowicz, Poznan, Poland
Completed studies of Hispano-American Literature, Instituto Allende, San Miguel de Allende, Gto. Mexico
BFA, Studio Art and Fibers, Instituto Allende, San Miguel de Allende, Gto. Mexico SOLO
From the website of the artist
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