Talk of borders has consumed recent political discourse, and with the display of the Binghamton University Art Museum’s recently acquired work “La Linea Quebrada/The Broken Line,” this conversation is extended into the gallery.
Last semester, John Tagg, distinguished professor of art history, donated two pieces to the University Art Museum. The first, a part of Mexican artist Ambra Polidori’s collection “¡Qué chulo es México!” was exhibited last semester and commented on the disappearance of 43 students in Guerrero, Mexico. The second, “La Linea Quebrada/The Broken Line,” is by the Border Art Workshop/Taller de Arte Fronterizo, a group of Mexican, Chicano and Anglo American artists, scholars and journalists, created in the San Diego and Tijuana-border region in 1985. The latter work is currently on display in the main gallery of the BU Art Museum and will remain there until Jan. 20.
“The Broken Line” consists of multiformatted illustrations and text describing Mexican American borderland issues and is exhibited on a wall of chicken wire, similar to a 1989 Border Art Workshop/Taller de Arte Fronterizo exhibition titled “Border Axes,” which used chain-link fences to symbolize the limits of border communication. For the workshop, “the border was an intellectual laboratory to map out resistance and satirize power dynamics,” according to the piece’s museum label.
Both of professor Tagg’s donations were curated by Juanita Rodríguez, a second-year graduate student studying history, who gave a gallery talk on “The Broken Line” on Dec. 8 in the main gallery. Rodríguez described the piece as a “mail art project.” The idea behind mail art is to connect and facilitate communication between different artists. It begins with an artist, or in this case a group of artists, who gather their work into a box and allow different artists, museums or galleries to acquire the box. The box and its contents travel throughout the art world in an extremely additive process in which artwork is added to the box throughout its journey.
As mail art, “The Broken Line,” in its entirety, consisted of 70 sheets of illustrations, quotes and excerpts inside a gray box when it arrived at the museum. Galleries and museums that acquire the package are able to do as they please when exhibiting the piece.
Rodríguez said that her job as curator was to place the artwork in the way that would most accurately communicate its message.
“The challenge of this piece was that it came in a kind of disorganized way, in this box, and I had to figure out the organization, I had to figure out the layout, I had to figure out the narratives and the argument,” Rodríguez said. “And although it has an explanation on the top, you still have to think about different ways to interpret it. So, my work was doing research in order to understand it and doing research in order to mount the installation, and also doing research to do the gallery talk and to explain to people my argument.”
Rodríguez chose to separate the various images and text into five “thematic blocks.” The sections were labeled: quotes and excerpts on border contexts, art and borders, border control, border culture and U.S.-Mexico borderland art.
“I found some illustrations that are a critique about border patrol, but at the same time, there are some illustrations that are a sort of response to that border patrol,” Rodríguez said. “But also, we have Chicano community-based expressions — Virgin of Guadalupe, the wrestlers — that are cultural expressions that emerged out from the relationship between U.S. and Mexicans in the border.”
Erin Annis, curatorial assistant at the museum and a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate studying history, shared that work on display in the museum is not always so political in nature.
“It totally varies,” Annis said. “There were several museums like the Museum of Modern Art and us that also, last year, when the travel ban went into effect, started putting up some pieces from artists from those banned countries. So, we also brought up, you know, we have an installation that we put up briefly in support of that. It’s really interesting to see the breadth of art and this is one of the pieces that can really bring that out, as Juanita was talking about with the democratization of art and bringing it into, kind of, a different arena than it would otherwise be.”
In addition to her work as a graduate student and guest curator at the University Art Museum, Rodríguez is also a teaching assistant for LACS 200: Introduction to Latin America and Caribbean Studies class, taught by Nancy Appelbaum, professor of history and director of Latin American and Caribbean Area studies, who visited the museum for Rodríguez’s gallery talk.
Kyra Nelson, a student of Rodríguez’s and a sophomore double-majoring in sociology and Africana studies, said that, in her eyes, the reactionary nature of the piece to current politics contributes to its relevance.
“Our first class that we had of the semester, we discussed memories,” she said. “Similar to what’s been going on with the statues and Trump and all of that and how certain people are reacting to that. Like, ‘That’s taking down America’s history’ or ‘That’s not, really — our history’s wrong.’ And, I feel like this is a reaction to white [cisgender] men’s history, America’s history. I love this, that’s why I like [“The Broken Line”] because it is showing a lot of resistance from marginalized people and a lot about border conflicts.”