This weekend’s Binational Art Walk in Douglas, Arizona and Agua Prieta, Sonora dispels the borderlands-as-monolith myth through creative expressions.
As controversy continues over United States immigration policy, artists working in the borderlands are broadening the conversation by holding an art walk that engages communities in both the Southwestern U.S. and Northern Mexico.
The 2021 Binational Art Walk is scheduled for Friday, November 12 and Saturday, November 13, 2021 in Douglas, Arizona and Agua Prieta, Sonora. The communities are located on opposite sides of the border fence in a region with a long history of creative expression.
Border Arts Corridor—an Arizona-based nonprofit that works to explore “the complexities of the borderlands” and employs arts and culture as a vehicle for replacing social borders with social bridges—is presenting the event.
“I’ve always known the border is a space of fertile creative energy,” says M. Jenea Sanchez, an artist born and raised in the region. Sanchez co-founded BAC with her husband and fellow artist Robert Uribe.
Border Arts Corridor launched its first binational art walk in 2015, working with collaborators who included several artists and arts organizations such as Arizona Commission on the Arts.
Sanchez recalls Kade Twist, a member of the interdisciplinary arts collective Postcommodity, reaching out about collaborating during the installation of their temporary land art installation Repellent Fence, which comprised a row of large-scale balloons that bisected the U.S.-Mexico border for three days in October 2015.
Their collaboration helped give birth to the art walk, but it wasn’t the only factor. Earlier that year, a small scale art walk organically grew from a beloved arts tradition at a small coffee shop then owned by Sanchez and Uribe. It’s located along G Avenue in Douglas, where several of this year’s activities will take place.
First, the shop exhibited works by area artists. Then they added artist talks and expanded into presenting open mic events. “We packed the house during pre-pandemic days, and decided we needed to expand into the street,” Sanchez recalls. “That’s how our first art walk happened.”
Since then, they’ve presented several iterations of the evolving tradition, although they skipped last year because of public health conditions. Some artists have participated from the beginning, and new artists take part every year, so there’s always a different mix of creative activities.
Agua Prieta-based photographer Ammi Robles is one of six BAC fellows who’ll be participating in this year’s event. She will create an interactive installation to include a blanket fort where people can view photographs and video that centers the Mexican town’s history and culture.
“I’ve heard a lot of people say there’s no arts and culture in the borderlands, but that’s not true,” says Robles. “The art walk is a way for people to experience that art, and for artists to network so they begin to form new collaborations.”
Both Douglas and Agua Prieta will close off streets for the art walk, and people who have the required paperwork will be able to cross the border to enjoy activities in both locations. Slats in this portion of the border barrier allow people to see beyond the divide, and share experiences like playing chess.
Sanchez says they have several concerts lined up along the fence, much like that early art walk during the Postcommodity installation. The lineup also includes film screenings, art exhibitions, and additional performances. Participating venues include a theater, library, and hotel, as well as several art spaces and small businesses.
“Our goal is to set the platform for artists to share their interpretations of their own lived experiences,” says Sanchez. “We want to amplify our stories and the ways that we collaborate binationally.”
Meanwhile, other projects exploring the borderlands are underway. For Desierto Mountain Time, thirteen arts organizations based in five Southwestern states and Mexico are presenting a series of exhibitions and other programming through May 2022.
Additionally, the Museum of Contemporary Art Tucson is showing works by multiple artists addressing “migration, transformation, and modes of survival in the Sonoran Desert” in the were-:Nenetech Forms exhibition organized by Los Angeles-based artists rafa esparza and Timo Fahler.
Border Arts Corridor has created or collaborated on numerous projects in addition to the art walk, including artist residencies, temporary public art installations, renovations to a historic theater, and entrepreneurial training for artists. The long list of artists they’ve worked with include Margarita Cabrera, Claudio Dicochea, Ana Teresa Fernández, Carolina Aranibar-Fernández, and Lauren Strohacker.
The free Binational Art Walk begins with a virtual opening Friday, November 12, at 6 pm. It continues in person Saturday, November 13, 2-8 pm.
“There are a lot of inequities, and through art, we can begin to thread out the complexities of our own region,” Sanchez says. “The borderlands aren’t a monolith and we want to be able to highlight that.”