Why Ana Teresa Fernandez Tackles the Immigration Debate with Art Instead of Words

Turn to any cable news channel, and you’ll hear endless chatter about borders and immigration, both in the Americas and abroad. But for all the talk, anti-immigrant policies still prevail. So San Francisco-based artist Ana Teresa Fernandez takes a different approach, engaging community members along the U.S. and Mexico border in symbolically erasing the border using blue paint that matches the color of their shared sky.

Her third iteration in a series she calls Borrando la Frontera takes place Saturday, April 9. And this time around, people won’t have to make a trek to the border to participate, because Fernandez is live-streaming the work, happening for the first time at three different sites, to locations around the globe. One of them is ASU's Combine Studios in Roosevelt Row, home to ASU Art Museum’s International Artist Residency Program. Anyone who wants to witness the paint-out can attend some or all of the free event, taking place from 9 a.m. to noon. Expect some dialogue about border-related issues as well.

“Art is more expansive than language to portray an idea.”

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Fernandez first created Borrando la Frontera several years ago in Tijuana. She still remembers someone seeing the work and remarking that they’d never thought before about what it might be like if the border, and its prison-like wall, wasn’t there. “That’s the power of art,” Fernandez says. “It can transcend the given.” She’s hoping the work channels freedom, liberation, expansion, and collective thought. And she hopes it raises a key question: “How can we think in expansive ways and have a consciousness that accepts people from different cultures?” Creating art, she says, is more effective than using slogans or text. “Art is more expansive than language to portray an idea.”

Fernandez will be painting a portion of the fence along the border in Ciudad Juarez, in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. Artist Maria Teresa Fernandez, her mother, will be painting in Mexicali in Baja California. And artist Jenea Sanchez will be painting in Agua Prieta, Sonora. The latter is one of two cities where the artist collective Postcommodity created a temporary land art installation titled Repellent Fence in October 2015. Local artists, advocates, and community members will be participating with these lead artists at each of the three sites. “Doing a triptych felt right,” Fernandez says of her decision to involve three communities. “Each time the project grows, almost like guerrilla warfare,” she says. “By working in different places, we show more unity across these communities and have a bigger impact.”

Plenty of preparation happens before painting begins, including connecting with local arts and advocacy groups, as well as readying supplies. Artists will use different types of blue at each site, says Fernandez, because each piece of sky is different. By choosing a hue that matches the local sky, Fernandez effectively erases the border by making it blend into the landscape. She’s already shopped with her mother for the eight gallons of “Perfect Sky” blue paint being used in Mexicali, but won’t hit the Home Depot in Texas to choose from 60 or so blue paint chips until after she has a chance to visit the Juarez site and observe the color overhead. Fernandez says they’ll start painting around 9 a.m., and expects the work to take about two or three hours. It’s all being shared live via Twitter and Periscope.

For her last Borrando la Frontera installation, Fernandez partnered with ASU’s Performance in the Borderlands, where Mary Stephens serves as director. But this time around, the work is being presented with a new Arizona artist collective called Border/Arte, which was founded last year by Stephens and Cassandra Hernandez, who left her position with Arizona Commission on the Arts last year to become Curator of CALA Initiatives for ASU Art Museum. Border/Arte organizers describe it as “a collective of Arizona-based artists, culture workers and arts producers dedicated to bridging art with social issues.” Both Stephens and Hernandez, as well as ASU Art Museum Chief Curator Julio Cesar Morales, will be attending Saturday’s event at Combine Studios. So while attendees won't get the thrill of painting out the border, they can expect some serious expertise to infuse the discussions taking place that morning in downtown Phoenix.