BENTONVILLE — Although she made the journey 20 years ago, one thing Guadalupe still recalls is being frightened by the animal sounds she heard at night while sleeping in the desert. Although her first attempt at crossing the border into the United States was unsuccessful, she was detained in jail for a day and sent back to Mexico, she made it through on the second try.
Countless stories like Guadalpe’s, who requested her last name not be published, have been told by immigrants that have crossed the Mexican-American border in the last half century. Now, at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, an exhibit brings their stories to life both in photos, music and sculptures.
The exhibition, titled “Border Cantos: Sight & Sound Explorations from the Mexican-American Border,” opened Feb. 18 and will run through April 24. “Border Cantos,” booked almost two years ago as an exhibit, arrived quietly at Crystal Bridges amidst a national debate on immigration.
Born from the collaboration of American photographer Richard Misrach and Mexican American sculptor/composer Guillermo Galindo, the exhibition tells its own story, shining a light on a complicated subject that can easily become one of unfeeling rhetoric. It opens the eyes and ears of the visitor to see, hear, feel and be touched by the sights and sounds he or she encounters.
While those who have made the crossing can only tell their stories, Misrach gives visual imagery to the stories through documenting landscapes and objects and items left behind by immigrants. His large scale photographs, along with grids of smaller photos, highlight issues surrounding migration and its effect on regions and people. Galindo’s experimental compositions, such as his 260-minute score called “Sonic Borders” played on the instruments he designed and sculptures give birth to background music that only crossers of the border heard until now.
“‘Border Cantos’ invites visitors to explore the migrant experience in a setting that’s inclusive and respectful,” said Rod Bigelow, Crystal Bridges executive director and chief diversity and inclusion officer.
The land of these two countries, Mexico and America, separated by a natural or man-made border, can be rugged and untamed, unforgiving and strangely beautiful when seen through the lens of a camera and the mind of an artist/composer. The approximately 80 works give voice to the many who have made the crossing.
For people like Ana Aguayo, the exhibit is especially poignant. As a young girl, she made the journey with her family and 89-year-old grandmother from Mexico into California. Aguayo was a former recipient, along with her brother, Jose, of the Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award, presented by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, in 2013 for their work in bringing the Gospel commitment to the poor. She has worked tirelessly for the rights of those who often have no voice through the Northwest Arkansas Worker’s Justice Center. After serving as the external affairs liaison in Gov. Mike Beebe’s office with a focus on Hispanic outreach, Aguayo is now working at Crystal Bridges as the membership program manager. On this day, she was experiencing the journey from another vantage point.
“Working on this exhibition has been very powerful and it’s hard for me to tell you that I don’t get teary-eyed,” the St. Raphael parishioner said. “I am thankful my own journey was short, but this has triggered memories for me.”
While few people appear in the photos of the exhibit, those that do have faces hidden by barriers. The barriers have been constructed over the years for nearly 700 miles of the almost 2,000-mile border.
Antonio, who also asked that his last name not be published, recounts his actual crossing when he came to America in November 1995. He crossed the river with a coyote (a paid guide to assist in getting immigrants across the border.) Antonio’s journey lasted a month with no food in cold weather.
“I can share my story because I want people to see how hard it is to come here and for people of the U.S. to know they have easy lives,” he said.
Despite immigration being a hot-button issue Galindo, U.S. citizen who was born in Mexico, said the intention of the artists was to make the immigration journey more human for viewers.
“We’re artists; we’re not politicians,” Galindo said. “We want to give people the experience of the border and to get acquainted with the immigrants’ journey. To make it palpable. To make it human.”
To that point, Misrach said as an artisit, he could only experience a fraction of what those making the crossing actually felt.
“We would spend one-and-a-half days hiking out in the terrible heat,” he said. “It was very emotional knowing what they were going through.”
“We are hoping that 30 years from now, people can look back at these photographs and sculptures and know and understand where we were in this moment in history,” Misrach said.
Crystal Bridges (crystalbridges.org) is the third venue of the exhibition. It was previously displayed at the San Jose Museum of Art in San Jose, Calif., and the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas, before arriving in Bentonville. The exhibition is free to the public.
Please read our Comments Policy before posting.Article comments powered by Disqus