Journeys along the Mexican border with artist Richard Misrach and composer Guillermo Galindo. And one student’s exploration of the personal connection with that place.
In the desert outside of Arivaca, Arizona, just a few miles from the Mexican border, several plastic jugs hung from the branch of a tree against the backdrop of a low winter sun. Humanitarian aid workers had put them there, filled with water, for migrants making their way through the harsh, inhospitable terrain. But coming closer we could see that something was wrong.
All of them had been slashed—by local militia groups eager to protect the “homeland” by making survival as hard as possible for people crossing into the United States. That was over winter break in 2015, while I was leading a group of classmates on a trip run by SCU’s Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education to learn about immigration policy and its effects.
This past summer I had the opportunity to work as an arts intern at Commonweal magazine. At the Pace Gallery in New York, I saw Richard Misrach and Guillermo Galindo’s joint exhibit, Border Cantos. The image of the slashed jugs came back to me. The exhibit brings together Misrach’s exhaustive collection of photographs from the U.S.-Mexico border, as well as recordings of Galindo’s avant-garde musical compositions, played on instruments handmade from debris gathered in the area. Sound, sculpture, and photographs summoned the same uneasiness and anger about the cruelty I’d witnessed in the Arizona desert.
Misrach, famous for his large-format color photographs of deserts and natural disasters, presents us with a photographic series that looks at migration from different perspectives. In one series, The Wall, Misrach captures wide-sweeping vistas of the American Southwest eerily bisected by manmade infrastructure. In Wall, east of Nogales, Arizona, above, the border wall conforms to the rolling hills under the pink and blue sunset. Faced with this aesthetic beauty, the viewer still feels discomfort. The steel barrier doesn’t separate two distinct things; it arbitrarily divides a once-unified land. The distinction between the United States and Mexico may seem clear from New York or Santa Clara, but I remember that when we were in Nogales, it didn’t.
Art that exposes truth about society’s ills enables us to enter into kinship with those on the margins. Direct experience with art can touch our hearts, challenging our minds to change. Even against the backdrop of injustice there is hope: From California to Texas, every day good-hearted people make an effort to protect human life and provide drink to the thirsty.
—Ciaran Freeman ’18
Adapted from a piece Freeman wrote for Commonweal while serving as an intern there, thanks to a Jean Donovan Fellowship through the Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education. They welcome your support.