Where do you Draw the Line featuring the works of Tuyen My Nguyen and Barbara Waters is on view at GreenTARA Space in North Hero, VT through October 6th, 2019. Exploring the impact of The US/Mexico border wall, Where do you Draw the Line presents analysis of its impact on human, environmental, and spiritual habitat through visual interpretation and photographs of the wall itself. The exhibition uses the power of art to move the politically charged topic out of the frenzy of the media into a space of contemplation to consider the consequences of drawing an impermeable line across the land.
Line is central to Barbara Waters’ monotype prints. She uses horizontal lines to create meandering intersections where the land meets the sky. In her panoramic prints she portrays vast landscapes with color gradations that create a sense of distance spanning as far as the eye can see. There is, however, another type of line in Waters’ prints: the vertical line, repeated one after another, also as far as the eye can see. These lines form the border wall. These lines divide and obstruct, representing a shift in perspective that undermines our roll as stewards of the environment in order to enforce a political mandate.
The border wall violates countless laws that were established to protect the environment. It prevents the natural movement of species that thrive on freedom and drastically alters fragile ecosystems including a UNESCO world heritage site. Waters presents the environmental protection laws that were dismantled in order to legally complete the border wall in Borderlands: Ghosts of Protections Past. In rows of lines mimicking the physical structure of the wall, Waters lists the 48 laws the government waived in order to erect a structure that would span the US/Mexico border. Some of these laws include The Endangered Species Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, American Indian Religious Freedom Act, and The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.
Where do you Draw the Line includes a presentation of articles that delve into the history of the border and the Mexican-American war of 1848, when Mexico was forced to sign over 525,000 square miles of territory to the US. The legal issues surrounding the structure are discussed along with the myriad of environmental consequences, including the hazard it poses for over 90 endangered and threatened species, the expected increase in flooding due to obstructed waterways, the division of tribal nations, and the seizure of private land. The literature also sheds light on smaller details that hold great significance such as The Bureau of Land Management quietly removing their conservation-focused mission statement from all agency news releases.
Photographs that Waters took at the wall in Douglas, Arizona offer a glimpse of the structure in reality: barbed concertina wire looped in curls, the clear blue sky abruptly intersected, tourists taking pictures, and the distant horizon of a Mexican mountain range obscured behind jail-like bars. To expand on her metaphor of line Waters includes prints of multiple organic lines woven together like a fabric. But in Democracy: Frayed Edges and Mending Project the fabric has torn, appearing vulnerable, tired, and worn. In Ask the Right Question Waters uses a series of strong lines again, this time united in a lattice pattern. These pieces comment on the frailty of the US government while acknowledging the potential to address the deeper issue raised by the border wall.
The humanitarian crisis unravelling as a result of the wall is palpable when standing in front of Tuyen My Nguyen’s installation threadbarrier. Lines of black fishing twine reach from floor to the ceiling, arranged in the same even rows as the bars of the border wall. Situated between the entrance to the gallery and the rest of the exhibit, threadbarrier requires anyone who enters the gallery space to navigate its presence. Sets of life-size clay hands created by Georgia Landau gently grasp the thread, reaching forward, and in places parting the obstruction as easily as one might part a curtain. The disembodied hands memorialize the lives that have been lost, including the distinctly small and vulnerable hands of children.
The position of the hands, on the brink of crossing forward from behind the barrier, addresses the concept that fueled the construction of the border wall. Caught in a state of limbo, the hands are never allowed forward into the space occupied by the viewer. As just mere hands without bodies they are devoid of identity. They maintain their position as part of the wall, and therefore part of the problem. They are a reminder of how ‘the other’ is perceived, and in many cases feared because the differences in ‘other people’ challenge the truths we build. The border wall was erected because of that fear. It is an attempt to remain separate and encapsulate our culture instead of enriching it with others.
Born of Vietnamese refugees, Tuyen My Nguyen empathizes with the immigrant’s struggle to make a better life. Her family settled in Louisiana, in an area that would eventually be hit by hurricane Katrina. In the aftermath of the disaster, Tuyen’s parents remained committed to rebuilding their community despite the level of decimation and dwindling population. It is significant to Tuyen that the feat of repairing the local infrastructure was achieved in part by the efforts of migrant workers from south of the border. They showed up to help when many were fleeing the wake of the disaster, joining together for the greater good of the remaining community.
As a barrier made of twine, threadbarrier is ultimately meant to be irrational. Its ineffectiveness mirrors the wall’s failure to address the complex issues surrounding immigration, xenophobia, and the human rights violations that cause people to seek asylum in another country. threadbarrier is fragile, reflecting the delicate nature of our relationships with one another when our need to become a secluded nation overshadows our potential to demonstrate decency toward others along with respect for our planet.
Nature itself is constantly in flux, existing with an ebb and flow that does not observe the human tendency to set parameters and boundaries. The wild chaos of ecosystems, of which humans are an integral part, thrives only with the freedom to move and exist in tandem with this on going and dynamic ebb and flow. The border wall disrupts this, preventing species from fleeing danger and unfavorable habitats, restricting migratory patterns, and impeding the health and procreation of local wildlife. By creating an impassable barrier that divides the continent, we are developing more physical, social, and economic problems, while solving nothing. It is time to ask the right question – where do we draw the line?